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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Health workers win discrimination case 13 years after they lost jobs

Five Boston health workers will finally receive monetary awards stemming from a 2000 discrimination ruling, for what one of the employees said was "being treated like a criminal" when they were laid off 13 years ago.

Today the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that five black women who worked for the Healthy Baby/Healthy Child Program run by the Trustees of Health and Hospitals and the City of Boston were treated differently than a white man who was laid off at the same time.

After a series of appeals and reviews, the payments, with interest dating back to 1994, will more than double the $20,000 to $30,000 each woman originally would have received.

Gloria Coney, Marlene Hinds, Victoria Higginbottom, Belinda Chambers and Betty Smith lost their jobs in July 1994. Given no notice of the layoffs, they were monitored as they gathered their belongings and not allowed to speak to their co-workers. One woman had her lunch bag searched while she packed, a court summary says.

Coney "felt humiliated, mortified and angry at being treated like a criminal," the document says, and she believed her employer had acted on a presumption "that black women steal things."

A white male worker was told in advance that he would be laid off and was allowed to walk around the office freely before he left.

The city argued that because the white man's job was different his layoff was carried out in a different manner.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruled that the city agency had discriminated against the women based on their race and gender. It awarded them damages for emotional distress, plus attorney's fees and costs.

The initial MCAD ruling was appealed or reviewed five times.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:58 PM
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