Black Employee Sues OHSU, Alleging Racial, Sexual Discrimination
A Black employee at Oregon Health & Science University has filed a lawsuit against the institution, claiming she suffered racial and sexual discrimination and was retaliated against.
The suit, filed in January in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeks $300,000 in damages.
Cashnita Mathieson was hired by OHSU in 2011 to work as a phlebotomist in the Hatfield Lab. According to OHSU’s website, the lab is staffed 24 hours a day and performs a large number of analyses in emergencies when a quick turnaround is required, along with a range of other tests. The lawsuit says Mathieson’s manager, Michael Pitts, was the source of the problems. He became a phlebotomist supervisor in the lab in 2015 and then the interim phlebotomy manager in 2019. It alleges that Pitts repeatedly singled her and other Black employees out for “discriminatory treatment and harassment.”
It says that Pitts was disrespectful and intimidating, demanded higher standards from her than from white or male employees, was hostile and aggressive when she raised her concerns and disciplined and terminated her for conduct similar to that of white employees who were not disciplined.
“Ms. Mathieson frequently went to her Black female coworker (who had also experienced discrimination and harassment by Mr. Pitts) in tears as a result of Mr. Pitts’ disrespectful treatment,” the suit says.
It claims that her race was the motivating factor behind her mistreatment.
“Plaintiff suffered embarrassment, anxiety, humiliation, anger, emotional distress, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life,” the suit states.In its answer to the lawsuit, OHSU denied the allegations and says that under Oregon statute, she cannot seek as much as $300,000 in damages. OHSU also says that Mathieson fails to provide sufficient facts to support her allegations. It calls for the case to be dismissed with prejudice which would bar Mathieson from filing further suits. And in a statement seeking comment about the suit, OHSU said: "We are continuously working to improve our culture, policies and practices to provide a safe and welcoming work and learning environment that is trauma-informed and free from harassment and discrimination of any kind. OHSU’s employee confidentiality practices prevent us from commenting on the allegations in this complaint, beyond what’s included in our legal response."
OHSU has faced other lawsuits alleging racism and discrimination, and its Black Resource Group has repeatedly complained to the administration about systemic racism. Black leaders at OHSU told The Lund Report that other Black employees at OHSU also plan to sue the institution but they did not comment on this current suit.
Mathieson’s suit says that Pills responded with “hostility and aggression” when she raised concerns about the conduct of white or male coworkers, and it says he declined to give her a swing shift job “even though Ms. Mathieson was the most senior employee who applied for the position.”
The lawsuit alleges that she was harassed by unidentified peers who joked about “Black people” and that they refused to help her with difficult blood draws despite orders from Pitts to do so.
Mathieson complained about suffering harassment and discrimination to OHSU’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Office and filed two complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, in 2011 and 2015. Both of those complaints were closed by the bureau, which cited that it had no evidence. Mathieson’s complaint says that the affirmative action office “did nothing” to address her concerns.
They also agree that Mathieson was disciplined with two verbal warnings, a written warning and a final written warning in January 2020. It does not explain why she was disciplined or went through a pre-dismissal hearing in April 2020 and was fired but then given a “last chance agreement” in May 2020.
She is still working at OHSU.
You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.
Aug 16 2021