Written by John Winer
February 09, 2021
Our firm recently filed a racial discrimination lawsuit on behalf of two former employees of a San Francisco medical center, who allege they were subjected to harassment and discrimination due to their race and color and were retaliated against when they spoke up about the abuse. A 2020 report indicated that active racism permeates many American workplaces and that in the last three years alone, Black employees had experienced an increased amount of racial discrimination and harassment.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, racial discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because they are of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with their race. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to reduce racial inequality by eliminating discrimination and harassment in the workplace, it, unfortunately, continues to exist.
“While progress has been made with tackling racial discrimination in recent times, it is clear that it still lives on in the workplace.” said founding and managing partner John Winer. “It’s important for employers to create a space where people feel safe to come forward and report unwanted abuse and harassment without the fear of being retaliated or fired.”
Our clients, two Black women, were former employees of St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, working as communications operators. They were part of the telecommunications department, which ran 24 hours and seven days a week, and where there were predominantly Black operators who had been employed with the company for decades and who had significant skill, knowledge, and experience in the field. Despite their commitment and experience, they were repeatedly treated less favorably than the non-Black operators with regard to requests for leave, scheduling, job responsibilities, and other terms and conditions of employment.
While they were employed, the plaintiffs were unlawfully discriminated against because of their race and color and were subjected to mandatory overtime shifts, denying their requests for leave, changing their schedules without their consent, and were denied overtime pay, meal periods, and rest breaks that were afforded to other similarly situated non-Black employees. The lawsuit also contends that the medical center failed to provide a workplace free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and that they failed to promptly investigate the discrimination and harassment. After the women protested against the unlawful discrimination and harassment to supervisors, managing agents, and directors, they retaliated against them, subjecting them to more mandatory overtime shifts, denying their requests for leave, changing their schedules without their consent, removing their work and personal items, and denied them terms and conditions of employment that were afforded to other similarly situated employees. As a result, the corporation intentionally permitted working conditions to exist that were so intolerable that the plaintiffs had no other choice but to resign.
Workplace harassment and discrimination can have a tremendous negative impact on an employee not only at their workplace, but also in other aspects of their life such as their health, relationships, career, and overall well-being. Research by the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) found that when employees feel safe discussing racism openly, the conversations are likely to have a more lasting and sustainable impact, which can lead to a more proactive workplace. Our firm strongly believes in the fundamental principle that all employees have a legal and ethical right to a work environment free from unlawful harassment, offensive and insulting behavior, and discriminatory treatment. If you believe that you have been the victim of discrimination or harassment in your workplace, it’s important to contact an employment law expert who can help manage your case.