(CN) - A former dermatology technician claims in court that her one-time employer subjected her to race-based verbal and physical abuse.
In a complaint filed in the Newport News, Va. circuit court, Tammer Chisholm says she was hired by Pariser Dermatology Specialists Ltd. in February 2005 to answer phones, and was eventually promoted to the position of dermatology technician.
Chisholm says everything was fine until 2007, when for the first time at work she wore her hair in a natural Afro "curly style."
Upon seeing Chisholm's hairstyle, Pariser's white executive director, Linda Elder, allegedly began to verbally harangue her. Elder then walked to the table where Chisholm was seated, and said, "What the Hell is this? What's wrong with your hair?" the complaint says.
Elder then allegedly grabbed a handful of Chisholm's hair and pulled it, which according to Chisholm, caused her physical pain and embarrassment in front of several coworkers.
Chisholm says after the first incident, she was repeatedly referred to by a derogatory nickname.
Elder, the complaint says, began to call Chisholm as "Rossy" and/or "Diana Ross," other white managers, including Judy Rogers, Chisholm's immediate supervisor, also began casually using the discriminating nickname.
Chisholm says she told her supervisors she objected to the nickname, and began wearing her hair in a tight bun so they and other employees would not make fun of the texture of her hair.
But Chisholm says these efforts on her part did nothing to stop the racial bullying and name-calling.
On May 31, 2012, she says, Chisholm wore her hair pulled back in a ponytail that exposed the natural Afro curls of her hair.
When Elder saw her, Chisholm says, she became agitated and exclaimed, "Tammy! What is wrong with your hair? It's wild."
Chisholm says she responded that her hair was neatly pulled back in a ponytail. Elder then further antagonized Chisholm saying her hair was "part elegant" and "part wild," the complaint said.
Chisholm claims when she asked Elder if the texture of her hair was a problem, the executive director responded, "I don't know... your hair... it's Diana Rossy."
Chisholm also claims Elder said nothing to a white employee who happened to be wearing her hair in a ponytail that day.
And the harassment only escalated from there, the complaint says.
According to Chisholm, on June 14, 2014, her immediate supervisor, Rogers, apparently believing she's made a mistake, walked up to Chisholm and allegedly told her, "I'm gonna slap the shit out of you!"
Chisholm says when she objected to the comment, Rogers repeated it.
Days later, Elder approached Chisholm in a hallway, and slapped her in the face.
Chisholm said these events so upset her that she visited a doctor who recommended that she take a medical leave. The doctor then wrote Chisholm a note stating that he was taking her out of work until July 11, 2012.
While on a medical leave, Chisholm reached out to Pariser's human resources department hoping to end the discriminatory attacks she claims to have experienced..
On June 22, 2012, Chisholm emailed Melissa Harrison, Pariser's human resources manager, telling her that she felt "unsafe and uncomfortable" working at Pariser because of her "recent work experiences."
Chisholm say never in her email did she indicate any intention to resign from her job.
Harrison responded with an email, asking if Chisholm was quitting.
Later that afternoon, before Chisholm had a chance to respond, Harrison sent a second email accepting her "resignation."
Chisholm believes the second email was sent at Elder's direction.
She seeks $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages on claims of
wrongful termination and racial discrimination.
Chisholm is represented by David Simonsen Jr. of Richmond, Va., and Christopher North, of the Consumer and Employee Rights Law Firm, in Newport News.
A representative of Pariser declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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