On Your Side: McGuire VA allegations

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - McGuire VA Hospital employees in Richmond who won their own individual settlements say nothing changed even after the VA paid out $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.

The spokesperson for McGuire says the hospital isn't happy and is seriously addressing these new complaints. They resemble long-standing complaints alleging failure to promote black employees.

The employees tell emotional stories alleging institutionalized discrimination at McGuire. They say the veterans hospital is run like a plantation with hostile managers blocking promotions for black employees and antagonizing them by calling them names.

"He just walked up to me and said you look like a raccoon  and I told him he looked like a opossum," McGuire employee Alfred Holloway said. "The way he was looking at me was as if he was saying I hate you."

The union president says three supervisors, named in earlier EEOC complaints, were members of an all-white job panel that failed to promote blacks. McGuire paid out $5 million to settle a class action lawsuit in 2010 involving 2,000 employees. These men also won settlements in their own individual cases in 2011. Despite past legal victories, they say nothing changed.
The supervisors still work at the VA, so, some employees don't try for promotions anymore.

"I really didn't put in for the jobs because like I say I already knew in my heart and soul they were going to hire Caucasians and after a while you just get tired," Holloway said.

Violi Height says he applied for two promotions but never got a response. "Do you think your performance had anything to do with it or qualifications? No No. One thing he told me from the start, he'll never give me nothing and he'll never teach me nothing," he said.

Height says one time, the hospital advertised eight jobs, hired four white applicants and closed the ad with positions left to fill. Another time he applied two jobs were posted. The hospital hired an African American and a Caucasian.  Height didn't get a response of any kind. "I need time out. I'm angry. I'm real angry," Height said.

What the union claims is that not much changed after that settlement, that black employees are still being blocked from promotions; it's systemic within the VA. We asked McGuire spokesperson Darlene Edwards: How do you counter something like that?

"We try not to look backward but to look forward," said Edwards.

Edwards says discrimination allegations are taken seriously and corrective action taken if they're substantiated. "We're taking the appropriate steps and that we value them because we do and something like this is not what McGuire is about," she said.

Union President Jennifer Marshall says keeping them on the payroll sets up McGuire for liability in future complaints and ultimately impacts veterans' care. "You're not going to enhance quality patient care or patient satisfaction when you're treated like dirt. You're going to have that negative mentality," she said.

McGuire is investigating the discrimination complaints and says it's proud of its diverse workforce and veterans, and any comments that are harmful to staff members will not be tolerated.

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