Settlement announced in bias claims at Richmond’s VA hospital

There was no system for applying for, receiving, nominating, or acknowledging the good works of everyday employees, said the Iraqi War veteran and nurse. But at certain times of year there would be the same whispers about bumps in pay, bonuses and other types of recognition. Black workers felt they were kept out of the process, she said.

Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it has decided to settle a decade-old discrimination suit filed by African-American workers at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center that hinged on allegations of favoritism toward white workers.

The settlement will include a $5 million disbursement among as many as 2,000 workers at the hospital and the establishment there of a modified awards policy "to allow employees to nominate themselves for awards," according to plaintiff's attorney Michael Kator.

"It is a thrilling victory and a lesson about working as a team to make a better hospital," said Harrison-Gray, who was one of the original plaintiffs in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case.

Will A. Gunn, the VA's general counsel, said in a statement last night that the settlement is prompted by "the failure on our part to timely identify and make relevant documents available" to the plaintiffs.

"Despite having produced in excess of 10,000 pages of documents, certain relevant documents were overlooked," he said. This was discovered during an administrative proceeding Feb. 4, he said.

He said that throughout its defense, the VA "has found no bias in the administration of the awards program" and is reviewing recently discovered documents for any evidence of discriminatory practices. He said the VA is determined to bring about the "earliest possible" resolution of the case.

"There are months more of work" before the case will be fully resolved, said Kator, who noted that some members of the class bringing suit have died or left the hospital. Awards could range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars and promotions, he said, based on years of service and other factors.

The complaint before the EEOC "alleged that African-American employees were treated unfairly in the distribution of monetary and nonmonetary awards," Kator said.

"Disputes over the awards policy have dragged down employee morale for years and caused many exceptional employees to leave the VA for other employment," Kator said. He said the settlement will bring "an enormous boost" to the morale of African-American employees.

Jennifer Marshall, president of Local 2415 of the American Federation of Government Employees, declared last night: "It's a dream come true."

Marshall, who is white and not covered by the complaint, said, "I started this back in 1999, and it took to 2005 for it to get certified."

She said the hearing began Feb. 1 and that a lot of evidence had been put on by Feb. 4.

She said she felt the government was afraid of sanctions by the judge and that cooler heads prevailed in the decision.

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