A former licensed nursing assistant at Rutland Regional Medical Center claims he faced ongoing racial harassment and was wrongfully fired.
In a 15-page complaint, Roger Speid claims he was frequently subjected to jokes and racially motivated comments, including some from supervisors.
Speid is black. He was born in Jamaica but has lived in Vermont for 13 years. The 43-year-old father-of-two, worked at the hospital for more than five years where court documents indicate he received favorable performance reviews.
“Roger was put in a difficult bind,” says Patrick Bernal, Speid’s attorney, “On the one hand he could respond and say, ‘I don’t appreciate those jokes knock it off.’ But there are a couple problems with that. One, he’s a licensed nursing assistant and he’s at the bottom of the totem pole so he might not always feel comfortable telling people who are superior to him to stop telling jokes.”
There was also another key issue, continues Bernal, “Roger is acutely aware of the stereotype of the angry black male. So if he tells people, 'cut it out, please stop saying those things' he could come across as angry. So it’s a delicate situation and one we feel he shouldn’t have been subjected to.”
In his complaint, Speid alleges the harassment came to a head last fall when a noose was hung on a door in his work area. Speid claims it was allowed to remain there for more than three weeks and despite repeated requests, no one from the hospital investigated.
Soon after the noose was displayed, two white female coworkers made allegations of threatening behavior against Speid.
Bernal says his client was not given an opportunity to respond and was unnecessarily escorted out of the hospital by security guards, a move his client felt was racially motivated.
Bernal says the alleged threats were investigated and ultimately not substantiated by the hospital. Yet Speid was terminated in November.
“When these events that are alleged in the lawsuit came to light, Roger was really taken aback, not just because of the racially charged nature of what was happening with the noose there, but that he wasn’t offered protection. He felt like the hospital didn’t have his back," Bernal says. "And he couldn’t figure out why after those years of great service, and I think that’s one of the most painful things about the lawsuit."
No one from the hospital would comment, but Brian Kerns, Vice President of Human Resources, issued this statement: “We are an equal-opportunity employer and we maintain strict policies prohibiting unlawful discrimination in the workplace. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our staff, patients, contractors and volunteers without regard to race, gender, age or any other protected trait.”
The case is pending in Rutland Superior Court.