US agency sues Vermont nursing home over racist abuse allegations

BURLINGTON, Vt. — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued a Vermont nursing home over allegations that patients racially abused black staff members.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in US court in Burlington says the Burlington long-term care facility Elderwood has violated federal law by subjecting black nurses and nursing assistants to what the lawsuit describes as persistent and blatant racial harassment.

According to the indictment, as of 2020, certain white Elderwood residents have repeatedly made abusive racist comments and physically assaulted Elderwood’s black nurses and nursing assistants.

“This harassment was particularly grotesque and should have been dealt with quickly, but allowed to continue,” Timothy Riera, acting director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said in a press release. “An employer cannot ignore blatant racial harassment simply because the bullies are residents of a long-term care facility.”

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, Elderwood spokesperson Chuck Hayes said the company was aware of the EEOC case but could not comment on pending legal matters.

“We strongly emphasize that Elderwood in Burlington will not tolerate harassment of any kind and pride itself on fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion,” the statement said. “All reports of inappropriate behavior from residents are investigated and addressed. We will vigorously defend our efforts to protect our staff from racial harassment.”

The EEOC lawsuit says the harassment was carried out by a white male resident and female residents. The employees noted the harassment in residents’ care notes, and one employee reported multiple complaints through Elderwood’s employee hotline.

Elderwood managers saw the workers being subjected to the racial harassment but did not stop it and attended a meeting in August 2020 where the affected workers complained about the harassment, the suit says.

According to the indictment, failed attempts were made to move the white male resident to another facility. After the alleged abuse was reported in October 2020 by the Seven Days in Vermont, Elderwood officials told state officials they attempted to move the white male resident to another facility, but no such transfer took place.

The EEOC attempted to reach an agreement with Elderwood to settle the charges but was unable to do so, the suit says. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the affected employees and prevention of future racial harassment in the workplace.