Kaiser Permanente Can’t Dodge Class Action Discrimination Suit

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Two black women who were fired from Kaiser Permanente after 16 years of employment may proceed with a class action that claims Kaiser hospitals have a policy of discriminating against black employees by firing them and denying them promotions.

Lunell Gamble worked in Kaiser’s human resources department for 16 years, until she was fired on false allegations of falsifying work records and acting aggressively toward her boss, she said in her lawsuit originally filed in Alameda County Superior Court in 2016.

Gamble said she was routinely denied promotions despite her qualifications and clean record. In 2012, Gamble said her new supervisor Rosa Grajeda began harassing her.

Among other things, Gamble said, Grajeda followed her into a bathroom and accused her of being lazy; scolded her in front of co-workers for laughing; and told her that the entire department had complained about her perfume, then acknowledged that she, Grajeda, was the only one who complained.

Gamble said she received a “final written warning” in July 2014, with a negative evaluation of her performance and accusations of hostile behavior toward Grajeda. Despite making improvements and meeting with hospital officials about the discipline imposed on her, Kaiser fired Gamble within the month, she said.

Sheila Kennedy, who was added to the case in 2018, also worked for Kaiser for 16 years in various positions in its chemical dependency and rehabilitation programs. She also claims she was denied promotions, transfers and pay raises that were given to other non-black employees and was eventually fired when she complained.

Both women are over 40 and also claim that Kaiser discriminated against them based on their ages.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers delivered a blow to Kaiser, rejecting the hospital’s argument that the women had failed to allege plausible claims for class-wide discrimination, writing “plaintiffs’ allegations of a completely arbitrary and subjective system for making employment decisions including promotions are sufficient to state a claim.”

Kaiser also claimed neither had identified a specific employment policy that created a disparate impact against African-Americans in the administrative charges they filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prior to the lawsuit.

Gonzalez Rogers rejected that argument as well, saying that while Gamble did not raise allegations that Kaiser discriminated against African-Americans in her charge, she can piggyback on Kennedy’s claim.

The women’s attorney Jeremy Friedman said in an email that he is still reviewing the 27-page ruling, but believes it could have a significant influence on future employment cases involving race discrimination.

“Judge Rogers’ carefully considered opinion resolves a number of important legal questions under California and federal laws,” he said. “We think it will be extremely helpful to the continuing litigation of the claims in this lawsuit, and will help guide other parties and courts addressing race discrimination and class actions in the employment setting.”

Attorneys for Kaiser could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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