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The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Vermont nursing home over allegations that it allowed patients to racially abuse black staff members.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington says the Elderwood Long-Term Care Facility in Burlington violated federal law by allowing black nurses and nursing assistants to be subjected to what the lawsuit describes as a continuous and flagrant racial harassment.
The lawsuit says that beginning in 2020, some white Elderwood residents repeatedly directed offensive racial slurs and physically assaulted Black Elderwood nurses and orderlies.
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“This harassment was particularly grotesque and should have been dealt with quickly but was allowed to continue,” Timothy Riera, acting director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said in a press release. “An employer cannot ignore blatant racial harassment simply because the harassers are residents of long-term care facilities.”
In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, Elderwood spokesman Chuck Hayes said the company is aware of the EEOC lawsuit but could not comment on ongoing legal issues. .
“We strongly emphasize that Elderwood in Burlington does not tolerate harassment and prides itself on promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion,” the statement read. “All reports of inappropriate resident behavior are investigated and addressed. We will vigorously defend our efforts to protect our staff from racial harassment.”
The EEOC lawsuit says the harassment was perpetrated by a white resident and female residents. Workers noted the harassment in resident care notes and an employee reported multiple complaints through the Elderwood Employee Hotline.
Elderwood officials observed that the workers were being racially harassed, but did not stop it and they attended a meeting in August 2020 where the affected employees complained about the harassment, the lawsuit says.
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The lawsuit says unsuccessful efforts were made to move the Caucasian resident to another facility. After the alleged abuse was reported by the Vermont weekly Seven Days in October 2020, Elderwood officials told state officials they tried to move the Caucasian resident to another facility, but no such transfer has taken place.
The EEOC attempted to reach an agreement with Elderwood to settle the charges, but was unable to do so, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for affected employees and the prevention of future racial harassment in the workplace.