Hospital worker forced to leave after racial, sexual harassment

Worker who suffered racial comments, false rumours for more than a year after sexual harassment asked to return to same department after complaint
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 06/23/2010

A black woman working in a Toronto hospital was subjected to a poisoned work environment through racial discrimination and sexual harassment, but has been told she must go back to the same department or leave.

Stacey Walker, 28, is a medical imaging technologist who worked at Toronto Western Hospital for two years. Problems for her began shortly after she started at the hospital in September 2008 when a senior co-worker began rubbing her shoulders and told her he wished she wasn’t wearing a bra. When she asked for advice, rumours spread throughout the department and her boss told her the co-worker was harmless.

The situation got worse for Walker, as she claimed she subsequently faced racial taunts and banter from others in the department, such as “Get up, give me your seat and go make me some stew,” and derogatory names. One co-worker showed her racially oriented cartoons while she was performing a CT scan on a patient.

Walker complained to HR and was told to take an assertiveness training workshop. Though she was told HR would look into it, it never happened, Walker told the Toronto Star. Walker said the abuse continued, including co-workers turning away from her and someone spreading a rumour that she killed a patient.

Eventually, in January of this year, the manager of workplace diversity for the University Health Network (UHN), which runs Toronto Western and several other hospitals in the city, investigated the department. After interviewing several staff, the manager produced a report calling the environment in the department “very poisoned” for Walker. The report also said there had been no real attempt within the hospital to resolve the situation. Walker then filed a formal complaint.

The University Health Network launched an official investigation. When co-workers found out about the investigation, Walker said she was faced with more harassment and the hospital placed her on leave. She wanted to move to one of three other UHN imaging locations in Toronto, but UHN said she didn’t have the right qualifications, despite the similarity in duties. She refused to return to Toronto Western.

The UHN indicated there could be disciplinary action coming out of the investigation, but also told the Toronto Star there would be “healing and counselling” in the department, which it called “extraordinarily effective.”

“If I had known it would be this bad I would have suffered in silence,” Walker told the Star. “I was the victim and now they're treating me like I'm the problem and they want to get rid of me. If they handled the sex assault properly the other incidents would never have happened.”

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