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Hospital System Faces Racial Discrimination Class Action

— December 14, 2021

Class action could have as many as 1,200 claimants.

Two Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) employees, Gloria Richards and Depreesha Smith, have filed a class action lawsuit alleging the hospital system discriminated against those of color.  Their suit claims OHSU “undervalued and over disciplined minority employees.”  It comes after OHSU released a report revealing it did indeed fail to meet its own states values of racial equity and inclusion, and the the plaintiffs believe there can be as many as 1,200 individuals eligible to join the suit.

OHSU is a hospital system, that is also considered an educational institution with ancillary facilities.  Its main campus located on Marquam Hill.  There have been multiple reported incidences of blatant racism and racially charged issues, including images of nooses found in and around the campus.

An independent report found that while “one-quarter of the employees were those of color in 2019 and 2020, they made up nearly a third of the workers involuntarily terminated over the same time period.  Minority employees are also disciplined more frequently and receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts.”

Hospital System Faces Racial Discrimination Class Action
Photo by EVG Culture from Pexels

“I’m bringing this suit because I want OHSU to change,” Richards, who has been with OHSU for more than two decades, said through her attorney, and adding in a statement, “I’ve worked for OHSU for 23 years and have seen my fair share of discrimination at OHSU.  I’ve been targeted, picked on, and passed over for opportunities I know I was qualified for. I’ve also seen other minorities picked on and passed over as well. People of color and minority workers at OHSU have been sounding the alarm for years.”

After all of the time she spent at the institution, Richards, a patient access service resource specialist, was terminated in March 2020 for allegedly engaging in “dishonest conduct.”  In the suit, she called the matter “minor and immaterial,” and ultimately, after contesting her termination, an arbitrator found she’d been terminated without just cause, so she was reinstated.  Afterwards, Richards said she received warnings for “3.5 instances of tardiness and absences.”

Medical assistant Smith said her issues with attendance were due to childcare issues brought on by the pandemic.  The lawsuit states the warnings “were enough to prevent her from applying for a better paying position in a different department.”  At the same time, Smith said, “a white employee with four attendance problems received no warnings or any disciplinary action.”

The independent “Covington Report,” released after a probe by Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, revealed that OHSU’s practices were egregiously misaligned with its core value of diversity and inclusion.  During the investigative process, Holder and those in his office interviewed more than 300 employees, and 75 managers and executives.  The hospital system paid $6.5 million for the project.

Danny Jacobs, OHSU president, said after the report was released, “Covington’s findings show how challenging the work environment has been for some OHSU members and let us be clear: just one person experiencing inequitable treatment, discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation or retaliation is one too many.  We cannot achieve our full potential as an institution or our duties and responsibilities until we have an environment where every member feels valued and can thrive.”


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