NJ investigates hospital company over racist language in workplace
TRENTON – A billing representative for Capital Health, who is Black, did deal with racially offensive language at work, though her firing after two-years of attendance issues was not a clear case of retaliation, according to an investigation through the Attorney General’s Office.
Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck announced that the Division on Civil Rights has issued a finding of probable cause against Capital Health Services, over alleged failure to effectively address complaints about the use of racial slurs and racially stereotypical references in the workplace.
The woman who made the complaints in June and August 2019 was fired in September 2019, after arriving late for a shift — after two years of written warnings for late arrivals and personal days off beyond accrued PTO.
She had worked in the Lawrenceville section of Lawrence Township as an electronic billing representative handling patient accounts from 2016 until her firing.
A formal DCR complaint was filed in November 2020, alleging she was subjected to a hostile work environment and then fired for complaining about it.
“Although it seems self-evident, this case serves as a reminder that an employee report that offensive language, including the word [n****r], are being used in the workplace, sets in motion the employer’s obligation to take swift remedial action,” DCR Deputy Director Rosemary DiSavino said in a written statement.
Capital Health Services has about 4,300 employees and operates two hospitals and 22 outpatient facilities across the state.
DCR did not find probable cause in connection with the worker’s claims of retaliatory firing but did regarding allegations of racially offensive language in the workplace.
A spokeswoman for Capital Health said the company could not comment on the specifics of this ongoing case but added that "our commitment includes ensuring that we appropriately address any individuals who do not behave in a manner consistent with our mission and values."
"Over the last several years, Capital Health has brought additional focus to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as a culture that empowers all employees to speak up and be heard when dealing with an issue that does not meet the organization’s expectations of behavior or safety," Capital Health spokeswoman Kate Stier said in response to the state's findings.
"Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council is specifically focused on building strategies for even greater education, awareness, and representation, and our work as a socially responsible organization is ongoing."
Racial stereotype statements
The female worker said that in June 2019 a co-worker had repeatedly used a racial slur in conversation with her and asked a supervisor for "her opinion" on how to handle the conversation — and at that point, did not want to make a formal complaint.
About two months later, after being warned that another late arrival would result in her firing, the employee emailed several managers about the same co-worker’s alleged use of racial stereotypes, including: “you people love pit bulls,” asking why Black people are “so loud,” asking whether the worker had gotten her “baby daddy” a Father’s Day card, and the co-worker saying that “her husband would never marry a black woman, stating all they care about is purses and hair weaves.”
In her August 2019 email, the woman referred to multiple “racial undertone conversations” she’d been experiencing in the workplace over the prior six months that made her “very uncomfortable.”
After that email, Capital Health met separately with both employees to discuss the issue, cautioned the offending co-worker and moved her workstation away from the woman, the investigation found.
DCR found that the first instance, reported verbally in July 2019, did not met Capital Health’s written policy against discrimination, which says “all reports of perceived discrimination will be thoroughly and discretely investigated” by management.
Case can proceed
Based on the DCR investigation, Capital Health appears to have made no attempt to investigate or “gain a better understanding of” either the August incident that triggered an email to Capital’s vice-president of human resources, or the Black worker’s broader allegations of a hostile work environment over a period of several months.
The finding of probable cause means there is sufficient evidence to move the complaint forward procedurally, based on a reasonable suspicion that the Law Against Discrimination was violated.
“We are committed to promoting racial justice and economic opportunity for all New Jersey residents,” Acting Attorney General Bruck said in a written statement. “We expect employers to know and understand their obligations under the law in this important area, including by appropriately investigating and taking action to address the use of racial slurs and other discriminatory language in the workplace.”
DCR is the state agency responsible for preventing and eliminating discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places open to the public like schools, businesses and hospitals.
People who believe their rights under the LAD have been violated can file a complaint with DCR by visiting https://bias.njcivilrights.gov/ or calling 1-833-NJDCR4U (833-653-2748).