Racial bias complaints continue at Kansas City VA Hospital
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Several civil rights organizations said Thursday that they want to see significant changes at Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center after allegations resurfaced of racial discrimination and demeaning treatment of black employees.
Black employees at the hospital have complained for years of a hostile work environment and the allegations drew new attention in March, when several employees met with the NAACP to discuss their concerns and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas demanded answers from Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs.
On Thursday, attorney Rebecca Randles said two lawsuits have been filed against the hospital, and up to 75 lawsuits are possible, although she is seeking class action status. She said she and the civil rights organizations want an independent organization to conduct a thorough investigation of the hospital’s operations.
Despite months of complaints, Randles said she heard this week from another employee who had been called a racial epithet.
In the lawsuits and multiple internal hospital complaints, black employees said they heard frequent racial epithets, were denied promotions for lesser-qualified white employees, faced expectations that were not required of white employees and received no support when they complained to supervisors or hospital administrators.
Charmayne “Charlie” Brown, a registered nurse for 35 years — 17 at the medical center — retired last year after she was not allowed to return to her previous job after undergoing shoulder surgery. She said her supervisor would not talk to her, even about patient care, except by writing on paper and slipping comments under her door.
“I want the same respect you have for the other nurses, that you have for the secretaries,” she said. “The name calling, the making racial jokes, and I am being the subject of the jokes that was just the foundation, and then when you go to the place where I am being isolated in my job that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
In response to Moran’s demands for information, Wilkie in May sent a letter reiterating the hospital’s commitment to diversity and its employees, and detailing several avenues employees have to bring their concerns to administrators.
Wilkie said as of May, the hospital had 39 active complaints in the Equal Employment Opportunity process.
Theresa DiMaggio, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City hospital, on Thursday reiterated those comments, saying in a statement the hospital is proud of its inclusive and diverse culture and encourages employees to report any problems they encounter.
Brown said she and other employees filed numerous EEO complaints and met with hospital administrators over the years but the complaints usually resulted in retaliation, not progress.
Representatives from the ACLU, the NAACP, Concerned Clergy Coalition and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were among those who on Thursday called for changes at the hospital.
Justice Gatson, a Kansas City-based organizer for the ACLU of Missouri, said the atmosphere at the hospital was “absolutely a disgrace” for employees, and likely hurt the care provided for thousands of veterans from Missouri and Kansas who use the hospital.
“We’re standing with them,” Gatson said. “We are calling for accountability, transparency and an answer to the demands that they have set forth in order to right these tremendous wrongs.”
Protests are planned every Monday at the hospital and the representatives said further actions were planned if changes aren’t made but they declined to discuss those.