$3.5 million suit filed against hospital

"Harrison Hospital officials aren't commenting about a $3.5 million racial harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee.The only thing I can say is that we clearly disagree with the allegations, and will follow the legal process on this, said Patti Hart, hospital spokeswoman. I can't stress how strongly we disagree with the allegations.Ruth Fenchel, personnel director for the hospital, also declined to comment. This should be litigated in the courtroom, not in the press, Fenchel said.Cheryl Harris, an African American former certified nursing assistant at Harrison, filed the federal civil rights lawsuit through her Bremerton attorney, Michael Nkosi, on Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.Harris also filed a discrimination charge against the hospital with the Washington State Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. The EEOC's Seattle office issued a determination May 24 that stated, there is reasonable cause to believe that there are violations.Harris, who could not be reached for comment, alleges in her suit that the hospital and five employees created a hostile working environment based on her race, and that she was retaliated against because she asserted her civil rights, said Nkosi. The alleged acts against Harris violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as well as other state and common law torts, he said.During Harris' employment at the hospital between Sept. 13, 1999 and Jan. 21, 2000, she alleged one nurse referred to her and introduced her to patients as Kizzy, my little slave girl, and would say things such as, come on now, you know you're my Kizzy, a reference to a character in the Alex Haley book and television miniseries, Roots.Harris said in her suit that even after telling the nurse this was offensive, that individual continued to use racially derogatory terms. When Harris complained to hospital management, Harris was suspended, transferred to another shift and unit, and ultimately had to resign to obtain some sanity.In an attempted conciliation agreement orchestrated by the EEOC, Harris asked for her job back and $160,000 damages. The hospital did not accept the terms, said Nkosi.Harrison Hospital has been told point blank not only by my client but also a neutral agency (EEOC) that discrimination has taken place. The hospital should do the right thing by putting her back to work, cleaning up her work record, and compensating her for her damages. If they don't do this, we're willing to go to war.He added that the hospital should institute diversity training as well.It's not good enough to just pay the client off. We want to make sure this never happens again, he said.The suit also alleges the hospital, supervisors and staff didn't reprimand or try to stop the racially discriminatory behavior, and compelled Harris to do menial work outside her professional capabilities and permanently besmirched her reputation. Damages listed include lost wages, fringe benefits, and pension plan benefits, and attorney costs. Nkosi estimates that the case will go to trial by the end of this year or early in 2002.The attorney also is handling two other local race-related cases, those brought by Henry Mincey and Lydia Milling. Mincey was a provisional assistant chief of police in Bremerton who Nkosi said was unfairly discharged due to his race, and Milling is an African American employee at PSNS who Nkosi said was racially harassed at work. The Mincey case will be heard in federal court in March and the Milling case is scheduled to go to trial in late May. "

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