A Black former UCLA phlebotomist was awarded nearly $1.6 million in damages after coworkers repeatedly harassed her because of her race, the woman’s lawyers announced Tuesday.
When Nicole Birden took a per diem position at UCLA Medical Center in 2015, she didn’t realize it would mean being referred to as “the black girl with the attitude,” “lazy,” “dark woman,” “liar” or “my n—a.”
But that’s exactly how coworkers described her, sometimes in Spanish, according to a lawsuit the news website My News LA obtained.
Birden filed it in May 2017 after she was terminated in June 2016.
She was formerly employed with about five Black employees in a mostly Latino department at the medical center, which doubled as Santa Monica’s clinical laboratory, according to the lawsuit.
“There was a culture of discrimination and harassment unfortunately at the lab,” Birden’s attorney V. James DeSimone told My News LA.
Birden’s legal team said the University of California Board of Regents, the woman’s former employer, fired her even though she was not previously reprimanded and had not otherwise been disciplined.
Lawyer Stephen Ronk, who represented the Board of Regents, argued that Birden was fired because of a “clear pattern of performance issues.”
A Los Angeles Superior Court sided with Ronk on that issue but still maintained that Birden was unlawfully harassed.
Harassment becomes unlawful when “enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment” or “the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Birden was awarded $500,000 for past emotional distress and mental harm, $800,000 for future emotional distress and mental harm, more than $190,000 for past economic loss and more than $86,000 for future economic loss, according to My News LA.
“We are thankful that a diverse Los Angeles jury could come together and give Ms. Birden the justice she deserved after a hard-fought jury trial,” DeSimone said.
Phil Hampton, a UCLA Health spokesman, said in a statement to Atlanta Black Star that UCLA Health is looking into other options regarding the decision.
“We are disappointed with the verdict, and we are reviewing the decision and considering all available options,” Hampton said.
He added in the statement: “UCLA Health is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation of any kind. Ensuring a respectful and inclusive environment is essential to the university’s mission, and employees are encouraged to report any concerns so that they can be reviewed and appropriately addressed consistent with UCLA and University of California policies.”