Federal anti-discrimination laws that protect workers often don’t apply to employees of small businesses. But a rarely used Virginia state law does. Now the ACLU of Virginia has taken up a case, in part, to show employees of small businesses that they also have protections.
Titi Shiyanbade and Tyesha Brooks are both black women who worked at a private concierge health clinic outside Richmond called Executive Health Group.
In a complaint filed on their behalf, they describe their boss using the n-word in front of a white co-worker. They say he would ask to touch their hair, or point it out to patients.
“He would repeatedly make comments, on one or more occasions, saying ‘She’s always on the phone with her millions of kids.’ Again feeding into really harmful stereotypes about black women,” described their ACLU attorney Nicole Tortoriello.
On another occasion, detailed in the complaint, their boss’ wife returned from a vacation in Jamaica. The wife allegedly told the black employee, Brooks, that Brooks should visit, because she “saw a lot of people who reminded me of you.”
In the complaint, Shiyanbade says she told her boss his comments made her uncomfortable and asked him to stop. A white co-worker, and friend, had also previously complained.
Months later, all three were fired and replaced with white employees.
“Dr. Baggesen said when he fired (Shiyanbade and Brooks) that it was due to a culture change in the office. And he refused to elaborate on what was meant by culture change.” said Tortoriello.
Responding to an email request for comment, Randy Baggesen says “Executive Health Group is committed to equal opportunity. We will vigorously challenge any claims to the contrary.”
He said he would not comment further on on-going litigation.
The ACLU has taken the case to test out a rarely used state-law that protects employees of small-businesses. Almost 17-percent of Virginia’s workforce works at a small business. The state law only provides protections if someone is fired.
Federal anti-discrimination law kicks in for people who work at a business with 15 or more employees.