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Black worker threatened with ‘50 lashes’ and ridiculed over her hair, NC lawsuit says

Hayley Fowler
·3 min read

A Black woman who worked in the mail room at a North Carolina hospital said she was subject to a hostile work environment for years at the hands of her white supervisor and colleagues before she was forced to quit in October.

Now the hospital faces a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville is accused of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as several state equal protection laws in a complaint moved to federal court this week. Court filings show the former employee, Indian Jackson, initially filed the lawsuit in Henderson County Superior Court in November.

“The constant willful harassment and racially charged commentary... plaintiff endured while employed by defendant constitutes extreme and outrageous conduct that went beyond all possible bounds of decency,” the complaint states.

An attorney for Jackson did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment Friday. A representative and attorneys for the hospital declined to comment.

Pardee Hospital is about 30 minutes south of Asheville and is managed by UNC Health Care, according to its website.

Jackson started working in the hospital’s emergency room registration unit in 2015 but moved to the mail room the following year.

As manager, the complaint said Jackson was denied a key to the mail room and access to certain passwords critical to performing her job. She was also reportedly forced to take her lunch breaks in her office.

When Jackson wore her hair naturally to the office, the complaint says a white colleague asked her “oh my god why would you wear your hair like that?”

“God made me this way,” Jackson reportedly responded.

Jackson told her supervisor, but she said nothing was done about it. Instead, on two separate occasions, her supervisor threatened her with “50 lashings” if she didn’t perform her job duties as mail room manager correctly, the lawsuit said.

When Jackson told the company’s CEO, the complaint alleges her supervisor began retaliating against her by rifling through her belongings “looking for something to try and accuse plaintiff of wrongdoing.”

According to the lawsuit, Jackson’s colleagues also made “racially hostile comments” as they watched the video of George Floyd’s death together. One colleague, who the complaint describes as white, reportedly asked “what color is he?”

Floyd, 46, died in May after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for about eight minutes, as three other officers didn’t intervene.

Jackson took an extended leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act in June, citing the hospital’s “racially hostile work environment and retaliatory acts.” She was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and forced to leave her job in October, the lawsuit said.

The complaint makes claims for violations of the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act, the North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act and the Civil Rights Act. It also makes claims for a hostile work environment on the basis of race, negligent hiring and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Jackson is seeking a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees.