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Press Release 09-06-2022

EEOC Sues Elderwood at Burlington for Racial Harassment

Black Nurses and Nurse Assistants Were Subjected to Constant, Unremedied Racial Abuse by Patients, Federal Agency Charges

BURLINGTON, Vt. – 98 Starr Road Operating Co., LLC, doing business as Elderwood at Burlington, a large long-term care facility located in Burlington, Vermont, violated federal law by allowing black nurses and nurse assistants to be subjected to ongoing and egregious racial harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, starting in 2020, certain White patients/residents of Elderwood repeatedly directed offensive racial slurs at Elderwood’s Black nurses and nurse assistants, including “n----r”, “coon”, “monkey” and “Black b-----s.” One patient repeatedly told Black employees to “go back to Africa”; followed Black employees throughout the facility so as to racially berate them; and physically assaulted Black employees because of their race.

The EEOC charged that despite Elderwood’s managers and supervisors witnessing some of these incidents and despite numerous complaints about the race harassment lodged to manage­ment by the Black nurses and nurse assistants, Elderwood told the Black employees that its residents could say what they wanted at the facility. In response to one complaint by a Black nurse, an Elderwood manager told her that she should be used to being the target of racial slurs because she “is from the South.”

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race. Race harassment is a form of race discrimination that is prohibited by the statute.

The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont (EEOC v. 98 Starr Road Operating Co., LLC, d/b/a Elderwood at Burlington, 2:22-cv-00168), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process. The EEOC seeks compensatory damages and punitive damages for the affected employees, and injunctive relief to remedy and prevent future workplace racial harassment.

“Federal law requires that an employer take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent race harassment of its employees in the workplace, including where the harassers are patients or customers,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “Here, Black employees were subjected to ongoing racial abuse for months on end without any effective response by Elderwood. Such misconduct is clearly unlawful, and the EEOC is here to stop it.”

Timothy Riera, acting director of the New York District Office, added, “Racial harass­ment in the workplace is never acceptable, no matter who engages in the harassment. This har­assment was especially grotesque, and should have been addressed quickly but was allowed to continue. An employer cannot ignore egregious racial harassment simply because the harassers are long-term care facility residents.”

The EEOC’s New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, northern New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The agency’s Boston Area Office conducted the investigation resulting in this lawsuit.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.