by Ashleigh Atwell via blavity.com
A jury awarded Ellen Harris, a nurse in Honolulu, Hawaii, over $3.8 million in damages after she claimed her employer ignored her reports of racial harassment, according to a press release from Harris’ lawyer.
Harris, who is black, worked in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at The Queen’s Medical Center from 2006 to 2011. During her time there, she reported a “potentially fatal event” involving another nurse who was allegedly harassing her.
When she told officials about the incident, her supervisor told her to write a statement; which she did. The day after she turned in her statement, she found a note in her work mailbox that read “LAZY *SS N*GGER B*TCH.”
Harris made another report and mentioned that the nurse who was harassing her was also acting “erratic,” and may have been under the influence. That nurse later resigned after the supervisor discovered she had been stealing “tremendous” amounts of fentanyl, a highly addictive narcotic. Harris’ supervisor and the hospital’s human resources director investigated the matter, and concluded that the note wasn’t threatening, but rather “a comment on Harris’ work ethic and communication skills.”
It took seven weeks for the investigators to interview two parties related to the note, and on Christmas Eve 2011, the night after the second person was interviewed, Harris found a picture of a noose taped to her locker. The incident was reported to Honolulu Police and investigated as terror threat.
Harris, who worked the night shift, requested a security escort to her car, additional security in the MICU, the results of any investigations and an apology. The HR department denied her security escort because the incidents didn’t occur in the parking lot.
She filed a lawsuit in 2013. Five years later, after a five week trial, Harris got her day in court. The jury declared that Harris was entitled to $630,000 in general damages and $3.2 million in punitive damages. Harris was happy with the decision and expressed that her safety, along with that of her patients, was important to her.
“I am so grateful to this jury for hearing my case and understood this is wrong. No one should be degraded or threatened like this,” Harris said. “I was only trying to make sure my patients were safe and received critical care they needed. After I found the noose on my locker, I did not think my patients or I were safe. Nurses depended on each other in the MICU. I was afraid something would happen to one of my patients or me after receiving this threat of violence.”