Lawsuit claims Burlington care facility allowed racial harassment

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 3:55 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2022 at 5:06 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The federal government is suing a Burlington long-term care facility for racial harassment.

The lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims Elderwood at Burlington violated federal law by allowing Black nurses and nursing assistants to be subjected to racial harassment.

After exhausting all of their avenues, six Elderwood employees brought the issue to the EEOC. According to the suit, they had tried meeting with management, logging the incidents in their patient notes and reported the instances through Elderwood’s employee hotline.

“The obligation of the employer when it is faced with a situation where it becomes aware of race harassment is not to turn a blind eye,” said Jeffrey Burstein, the EEOC regional attorney.

According to the lawsuit, starting in 2020, some white residents used racial slurs against Black employees, followed them through the facility and physically assaulted Black employees. The complaint also details violent threats toward employees.

“The basic response we allege in our complaint is to tell the nurses and nurse assistants who were complaining about the race harassments that residents in the nursing home have a ‘right to say what they choose,’” Burstein said.

In a statement, an Elderwood spokesperson wrote: “Elderwood at Burlington has been made aware of a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding complaints of racial harassment against Black staff members at the facility by residents. While we cannot comment on ongoing legal matters, we strongly emphasize that Elderwood at Burlington does not tolerate harassment of any kind, and prides itself on promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion. All reports of inappropriate resident behavior are investigated and addressed. We will vigorously defend our efforts to protect our staff from racial harassment.”

The lawsuit says the harassment violates the Civil Rights Act and seeks damages for the affected employees and injunctive relief to remedy and prevent future harassment.

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