After allegations of racial harassment at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, Gov. Phil Scott says his administration is reviewing workplace conditions at the state-run facility.
At a press conference Thursday, Scott says he was "shocked" by claims of harassment made by an African-American worker at the hospital.
“We want to make sure that all the facts are as they have been presented,” Scott said. “But … we want to make sure that there’s a safe environment for everyone to work in, and basic human principles about how you treat people.”
An investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission into the worker’s claims uncovered the alleged use of racial epithets and racially charged language by some white workers at the hospital, dating back to 2007.
The Vermont Department of Mental Health has acknowledged inappropriate conduct by workers at the hospital.
“The Department has been clear with staff that racial comments are unacceptable in the workplace, even when made out of ignorance,” Assistant Attorney General Melanie Kehne wrote on the department's behalf in a response to the report issued by the Human Rights Commission.
The state, however, says incidents of inappropriate behavior cited in the report do not meet the legal definition of racial harassment or employment discrimination.
“The question is whether these comments were so ‘severe and pervasive’ as to create a racially hostile work environment at VPCH,” the state also wrote in its response to the complaint. “This is a high legal bar - a very different question than employee conduct generally - and the Department respectfully submits that this high legal bar is not supported by the record in this matter.”