A U.S. senator from Kansas and the NAACP are demanding action after up to 50 Black employees of the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center have complained about widespread discrimination at the hospital.
Their complaints include hearing jokes about lynchings and being compared to monkeys, having White co-workers secretly monitor them for supervisors, a lack of promotions and bonuses, and being fired without cause. Some female employees say they have also faced sexual harassment.
The Kansas City chapter of the NAACP said it has met with between 45 and 50 employees, from cooks and janitor to doctors, since television station WDAF-TV in Kansas City aired a report March 3 on the conditions.
Hospital spokesman Vernon Stewart said in a statement that the hospital is proud of its diverse culture, doesn't tolerate discrimination and thoroughly investigates all complaints.
Employees say that hospital administrators and the Office of Resolution Management and Equal Employment Opportunity have addressed complaints by retaliating against the workers who filed them.
"I felt like I was in jail," said Shominicia Banks, a nurse assistant who was fired in March after she filed several complaints during her 10 years at the hospital. "They were monitoring my every move. I didn't know when (her firing) would happen but I knew it was coming because I spoke up."
Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a letter sent March 6 to Robert Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs, that the hospital is crucial to thousands of veterans in Kansas and Missouri. He demanded that the VA provide documentation of all discrimination complaints the hospital had received in the past 10 years and a description of how the hospital responded.
As of March 18, the hospital had not responded to the letter, said Tom Brandt, Moran's spokesman.
Banks, of Kansas City, was notified on Feb. 14 that she was being fired after she did not complete a computer training course on time. She was told she had until March 9 to respond but was fired the day after the television report, which did not identify any employees.
Banks, 41, claimed supervisors openly laughed at meetings about targeting employees and that her supervisor joked at one point about Banks being fired. In an earlier incident, a supervisor stood over her, yelled at her, and threatened to have police remove her from the hospital if she didn't sign a report on a fact-finding investigation that contained inaccuracies, she said.
Charmayne "Charlie" Brown, a veteran who spent 17 years as a nurse at the medical center, retired last year when she was told she couldn't return to her previous job after undergoing shoulder surgery. She said a doctor who was upset after she filed a complaint against him communicated with her about patient care only by sliding papers under her door, including at one time a paper towel that he had used to wipe his hands. He also made several sexually suggestive remarks to her and other nurses, Brown said.
"Whenever I would complain, I would reap the whirlwind, I really would," said Brown. "There are so many examples. It makes me mad all over again. I had no intention of retiring when I did. I worked a long time to be an RN and it was taken from me."
Both women said the amount of time spent on secret monitoring, fact-finding investigations and retaliation not only damaged morale but took time away from veterans needing care.
The two women said they hoped publicity would expose the hospital's hostile working environment and result in an unbiased, thorough investigation.
"I want justice served. I want people to be treated fairly," Banks said. "I don't know why I am sitting on the sidelines when the people doing these things shouldn't be there."