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NAACP alleges Vidant discriminates against black, female workers


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The president of the Pitt County Branch of the NAACP alleges that Vidant Medicial Center has unfairly fired black, female employees and overlooked others for promotions.

Calvin Henderson held a news conference on Tuesday saying the organization is not satisfied with the responses it has received from Vidant officials.

Henderson said Vidant Health CEO Michael Waldrum has talked about seeking community support in its dispute with UNC and East Carolina University because of governance changes involving the hospital board of trustees.

“We feel that Dr. Waldrum and Vidant should take steps to make sure that there is fairness in the workplace and zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind for African-American employees,” Henderson said. “Then, and only then, should he feel comfortable in taking steps to reach out to the citizens in the community.”

Along with the reported firings, Henderson said there are other complaints about unfair working conditions including retaliation, wrongful discharge, unfair promotions, racial discrimination, a hostile work environment and inconsistent application of the organization’s human resources policy.

A statement released on Tuesday afternoon by Vidant Health said the organization is aware of Henderson’s concerns and it has had multiple conversations with him in the past few months. The statement said the health system is “open to continued dialogue about the work we are doing on equity and inclusion.”

The statement did not comment on specific incidents, citing “team member confidentiality” but said there is a “comprehensive and appropriate process” for reviewing concerns of team members.

Henderson said it is notable that Vidant Health’s top 19 executives lack diversity, saying there are no African Americans employed among the system leaders. He said when Waldrum was asked about the administration’s makeup, the CEO reportedly said, “no comment.”

A Vidant spokesman said three of Vidant Medical Center’s executives are “persons of color.” The statement did not address the makeup of Vidant Health’s executive team, whose biographies are available at https://www.vidanthealth.com/Media/Executive-Bios.

Billy Walls, a member of local NAACP’s legal redress team, said several complaints have been filed but did not want to provide an exact number. However, he said, there seems to be a trend of black female employees being fired after a new white manager is brought in.

“Our theory is the white managers and supervisors in various departments are feeling somewhat intimidated by the education, experience and departmental knowledge of these African-American employees,” Walls said. Black employees with decades of experience who are training new employees are being passed over for promotions, he said.

Henderson said in one instance a black woman with 16 years at the hospital was fired after a new manager, who was white, was hired. Henderson said the woman’s prior yearly evaluations were at or above standard and she had received a pay raise following her most recent evaluation.

Another instance involved a woman whose parents died within a 12-month period. Henderson said the woman asked her supervisor for “considerations” involving her work schedule only to be fired.

Henderson said he could not provide details about other instances because they were undergoing an internal review at Vidant. Neither woman mentioned in the NAACP’s statements participated in Tuesday’s news conference.

“Waldrum sent out (a statement) some time ago indicating they stand up for equity and inclusiveness,” Henderson said. “These particular cases, all (involving) African-American females, have been allowed to happen. If they had been handled properly in the general process we feel we would have never had to meet with Dr. Waldrum.

“We do feel Vidant is an outstanding facility; it’s one of the biggest employers in Pitt County,” Henderson said. “We are not fighting against Vidant and the wonderful service they provide but we are addressing issues that exist in the system.”

“Racism and bias are problems deeply ingrained in our society,” according to the Vidant statement. “Vidant is committed to being a part of the solution. We have been intentional in our actions to include increasing the starting wage, actively working to improve diversity in leadership positions and developing collaborative community partnerships to build a diverse workforce.”

More than 8,000 Vidant employees have participated in an equity and inclusion education program. The health system also has hosted, with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a national conference focused on equity and inclusion in health care organizations.

“More than 240 Vidant leaders have taken classes that include training where we explore bias as it relates to hiring practices and strategies to ensure we are aware of those biases,” according to the statement.