Hospital Worker Sues Alleging Years of Racist Harassment
A security guard filed a federal harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the suburban Chicago hospital where he works, alleging a years-long campaign of racist taunts.
Maurice Walker continues to work for Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he says supervisors called him “nigger boy” and “black fag.” But a former colleague of Walker claims he was terminated for standing up for his friend, and is named as a co-plaintiff in the suit.
Fellow security guard Sgt. Walter Bergstrom, who is white, says he was initially brushed off when he reported the abuse to his superiors. He complained again when he learned that one of Walker’s supervisors, Lt. Richard Kuchyt, used his part-time position with the Chicago Ridge Police Department to conduct illegal background checks on Walker and other black employees.
Bergstrom’s managers responded by telling him he was “expendable,” so he reported the misconduct directly to Chicago Ridge Police. He was fired shortly after.
The lawsuit names Kuchyt and three other supervisors as co-defendants who worked “in concert to create a racially hostile environment whereby all employees are terrified to speak out about the injustices that they encounter on a daily basis.”
According to the suit, one of Walker’s supervisors forced him to wear a fake ID badge with a picture of Jimmie Walker from the sitcom “Good Times.” He later forced him to wear a badge that featured Walker’s own picture modified with dreadlocks and dark lips.
Walker was allegedly passed over for earned promotions and forbidden from conducting outside patrols because his bosses didn’t want the patrol vehicle “smelling like Popeye’s Chicken,” Walker told CBS Chicago.
The suit says that when Kuchyt discovered Walker had no criminal record, he told Walker that he couldn’t possibly be from Englewood, the Chicago neighborhood where Walker lives and which is known for its high crime rate.
Advocate Christ Medical Center declined to comment but released a statement that said, “We take this claim very seriously. The behavior described does not align with our missions, values and philosophy as a faith-based healing ministry.”
Civil Rights Law Covers Workplace
Employment law attorney Donna Ballman, author of “Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired,” said Walker and Bergstrom are both covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits certain employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and it protects employees who report such abuses.
“It sounds like the allegations are of pretty severe race discrimination and racial harassment,” Ballman said. “These employees’ damages could be back pay, reinstatement or future lost wages, emotional distress, and even possibly punitive damages. If the allegations can be proven in court, a jury might hit this employer pretty hard. I suspect there may also be potential criminal law consequences for the supervisor who illegally accessed the police computers.”
Because the hospital won’t comment due to pending legal action, it’s not clear if any of the supervisors have been investigated internally, reassigned or disciplined. WLS-TV reports that one of the defendants, Deputy Chief Dan Lempa, is taking a new position at a nearby hospital later this month.
“I find that some Americans can be skeptical that race discrimination still exists,” Ballman said. “Extreme cases like this indicate that race discrimination is alive and well. I hope this employer will take prompt action to make sure this type of behavior is no longer tolerated in their workplace.”
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