EEOC Sues Aurora Health Care For Race Discrimination And Retaliation

Director of Spiritual Care Terminated Black Female Employee While Giving Progressive Discipline to White Males, Federal Agency Says

MILWAUKEE - Aurora Health Care, a not for profit health care provider operating facilities in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, violated the law when it failed to meaningfully investigate an employee’s claims of harassment and race discrimination, retaliated against the employee for using the company’s internal complaint system, and ultimately fired the employee after she filed a charge of discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the allegations of EEOC’s lawsuit, LaRhonda Tatum, an African-American employee in Aurora’s Sinai Medical Center’s Spiritual Care Department, repeatedly complained to the human resources department about her treatment at the hands of her white male supervisor, Edwin Foster, the Director of Spiritual Care. The EEOC charges that Aurora failed to investigate Tatum’s numerous internal complaints, and retaliated against her for filing internal complaints and a charge with the EEOC. Tatum was ultimately terminated without any progressive disciplinary steps as she attempted to mediate the charge of discrimination.

John Rowe, director of the federal agency’s Chicago District, said that the EEOC’s pre-suit administrative investigation revealed that Tatum was allegedly terminated for disrespectful behavior and failure to follow instructions. However, Rowe said, “Tatum had no prior discipline of any kind, while white male employees who allegedly engaged in similar or worse behavior were given formal discipline and sent to classes--at the employer’s expense--to improve their workplace behavior. That looks like race discrimination and retaliation to us.”

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOC attempted to reach a voluntary settlement before filing suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (EEOC v. Aurora Health Care, E.D. Wis. No. 2:11-cv-007700-AEG). The EEOC is seeking injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination, as well as back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.

“This situation is particularly disturbing because the victim filed several internal complaints, yet the hospital failed to take action,” said John C. Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “As we allege in our complaint, Aurora then compounded the problem by retaliating against her for filing a charge with EEOC—that’s guaranteed to make the situation worse for everyone, especially the employer.” Retaliation charges are currently the most numerous category of charges being filed with EEOC.

Camille Monahan, Trial Attorney in the EEOC’s Milwaukee Area Office, will lead the agency’s litigation effort. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

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