A former employee of Mercy Medical Center has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the hospital, alleging racial discrimination in the facility’s mental health unit.
According to the lawsuit, Diana St. Gerard, a Haitian immigrant who was educated in Jamaica, was targeted and harassed by management and her fellow nurses after she spoke up about what she saw as a lack of minority staff and management in the mental health unit.
The suit also alleges that, in addition to mistreating minority staff, the workers in the unit also mistreated minority patients. St. Gerard said that she saw unethical treatment of minority patients, including overly physical and unnecessary restraint as well as the dragging and punishment of patients, and that white patients were not treated the same way.
“Diana St. Gerard wanted patients and employees to be treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin or the country they were born in,” said her attorney, Megan S. Goddard. “Standing up against discrimination cost her the nursing career she loved.”
The suit comes after St. Gerard pursued help through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said it uncovered no discrimination in her case.
“While we cannot comment on an ongoing lawsuit, what we can tell you is that prior to filing suit, Ms. St. Gerard asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate her claims,” a Mercy spokesperson said in a statement to the Herald. “The Commission responded to her, ‘…we have evaluated your charge based upon the information and evidence you submitted. Based on this evaluation, we cannot conclude that you were subjected to an adverse employment action motivated by discriminatory animus as defined by Commission guidelines and federal law. Therefore, your charge will be dismissed.’ Please be assured that Mercy takes any claim very seriously and encourages a positive working environment.”
For speaking up and pointing out the discrimination she saw, St. Gerard said, she became known as a “troublemaker” and began to be treated differently. She claimed she was not notified when her CPR certification expired, as all the others nurses allegedly were, and was suspended for two weeks without pay because of the lapse.
Other staff members were also the focus of discrimination, the suit alleges. St. Gerard said that an assistant head nurse with decades of experience, Kimberly Smith, a minority staffer, was demoted and replaced by a white nurse just a few years out of school.
St. Gerard said that when she complained about Smith’s demotion, she was targeted by the new assistant head nurse and subjected to even more discrimination. She was constantly mocked about her age and her nationality, she said. One of the nurses repeatedly asked St. Gerard if she practiced voodoo, and told her she looked like a voodoo doll, the suit alleges. St. Gerard said that, though Mercy was aware of the discrimination, it made no effort to stop it.
She said she endured the humiliation and discrimination for two years. In April 2012, however, she was fired for what she said were made-up reasons. She was reported for “failing to complete tasks” while serving as a medication nurse during a shift. Her manager said she did not document the charts of three new patients — something that St. Gerard said the medication nurse was never responsible for, and that the manager had expressly forbidden the medication nurse from doing.