Still-unconfirmed labor secretary leaving for Delaware State University post


DOVER — Secretary of Labor Patrice Gilliam-Johnson is leaving her post to join Delaware State University, DSU announced Thursday. She will serve as dean of graduate, adult and continuing studies.

Dr. Gilliam-Johnson was confirmed as secretary of labor in early 2016 during the administration of Gov. Jack Markell. She replaced John McMahon, who retired amidst allegations of racism and discrimination in the agency.

Dr. Gilliam-Johnson continued serving as secretary of labor when John Carney took over as governor last January, but unlike the other holdovers from the Markell administration, she was never voted on by the Senate. The governor’s office expressed concerns she would fail to gain the necessary 11 votes, as rumors swirled in Legislative Hall as to why her name had not been sent before the Senate.

Despite not being confirmed, she was treated not as acting secretary but as the full secretary of labor.

“My intention was to re-nominate Dr. Gilliam-Johnson for confirmation right at the start of this legislative session,” Gov. Carney said in a statement Thursday. “Patti has led the Department of Labor with distinction during a time where we have faced many challenges across state government and have been focused on the importance of building strong, inclusive environments where people feel valued and supported.”

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson said in August Dr. Gilliam-Johnson’s nomination would have received some votes in opposition from his caucus due to philosophical differences over prevailing wage, although he said he likely would have voted for her.

Patrice Gilliam-Johnson

According to the governor’s office, there is no requirement to renominate cabinet secretaries who are not changing their position from one administration to another, but senators said they are unaware of a secretary never being renominated before.

“It’s certainly a statistical anomaly,” Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said in August.

Gov. Carney is expected to nominate a replacement in the coming weeks.

At DSU, Dr. Gilliam-Johnson will oversee the university’s 21 graduate programs, expand its adult and continuing education initiatives, help develop its online courses and promote public-private partnerships throughout the state.

“I am the product of an HCBU, have spent the bulk of my career in higher education, and have long believed that college and career readiness are keys to preparing both young and adult learners in a 21st Century America,” she said in a statement. “My experience at the Department of Labor has only solidified the point, and provided further evidence of the importance of diverse, inclusive workplace environments with their resulting effects on the health and wealth of communities throughout our state.”

Prior to serving as secretary of labor, Dr. Gilliam-Johnson was a professor at Wilmington University, where she chaired the psychology program.

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