Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Sued by EEOC for Race Discrimination

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

African American Worker Endured Co-Worker’s Repeated Use of Racial Slur, Federal Agency Charges

TACOMA, Wash. – Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (KFHPW) violated federal law when it tolerated repeated use of a racial slur over the objections of an African American employee at its Tacoma Medical Center, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit.

According to the EEOC’s suit, for several months, Darlene Hayden, an African American laboratory assistant, endured a co-worker’s use of racial slurs. On the first occasion, Hayden informed her non-Black co-worker that the term, a version of the N-word, was offensive and discriminatory, and the co-worker apologized. However, when the co-worker continued to use the epithet despite her objections, Hayden took steps to alert managers, then notified the Human Resources Service Center and finally reported to KPHPW’s compliance hotline, all to no avail.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits harassment due to race and requires employers to take prompt action to investigate and stop the misconduct after they receive notice of it. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, Case No. 2:21-cv-01338-RSL) on Sept. 30. The EEOC’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief designed to prevent such discrimination in the future.

“Whether a racial slur is aimed at the employee reporting it or not, employers must act to stop such workplace conduct immediately,” said Nancy Sienko, acting district director for the EEOC’s San Francisco District, which includes Washington State. “It is unacceptable and against the law for employers to fail to intercede when their employees report racial epithets, particularly those associated with such historical weight and injury.”

EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Carmen Flores noted, “All employees have the right to work in a setting free from harassment, including ongoing use of offensive racially charged language. The EEOC will aggressively investigate, and, if necessary, prosecute employers that violate the law.”

KFHPW serves Northwest Washington, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, the Coastal and Olympic region, and the Puget Sound and is an affiliate of Kaiser Permanente, headquartered in Oakland, California. According to its website, Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, with an $88.7B operating budget and over 216,000 employees serving 12.5 million members.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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