A senior official with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing pending charges of racial discrimination from his co-workers after he reportedly displayed a portrait of Confederate general and the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, in his taxpayer-funded office.
David J. Thomas Sr., the deputy executive director of VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he was not aware that the man in the portrait was the white supremacist organization’s first figurehead.
He said he removed the portrait after a Post reporter explained Forrest’s past.
“It was just a beautiful print that I had purchased, and I thought it was very nice,” Thomas said, noting that he thought of Forrest “as a southern general in the Civil War” and nothing more.
Several of Thomas’s colleagues have accused him of racism and at least three of them have pending racial discrimination charges against him.
“Racial tensions have flared between Thomas and several of his employees, at least three of whom have pending claims of racial discrimination against him,” the report noted. “An attorney representing two of these employees said the portrait is evidence that Thomas is not comfortable around African Americans.”
“You don’t hire someone who puts a picture of the Klan in his office unless you’re [racist],” said John Rigby, the lawyer representing two of those employees.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour said in a statement to the Post that the VA “strives to create a workplace that is comfortable and welcoming to all employees.”
“[Thomas] received no complaints from his fellow employees and only learned about these concerns from The Washington Post … Thomas immediately took down the print in question,” Cashour said. “The matter is resolved.”
A petition started by the local VA chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents employees the agency, stated: “We employees denounce the display of this offensive picture and believe appropriate action should be taken.”
AFGE Local 17 president Douglas Massey told the Post that Thomas’s claim of ignorance about Forrest’s history was “hard to believe.”
The Post’s report also noted that nine of the 14 managers who report to Thomas are black.