They Want Permanent(e) Changes
In a moment of perhaps unexpected symmetry, seven speakers turned to face the seven
reporters before them.
One of the men poised to present wore a black vest and suit with an even deeper black silk thread lining the side of each pant leg. His shiny sage-colored tie precisely mirrored the shade of the button-down shirt beneath it. Dressed dapperly to honor the occasion, they congregated on the sidewalk lining one entrance of what was, for two of them, the building in which they had once worked.
The issues they took with their former employer varied, but their messages were the same: KaiserÂ had done them wrong, and they were ready to publicly demand what they could not exact before.
Their backs to the building housing West Los Angeles' branch of Kaiser Permanente, the
former managed care company workers and the event's organizers--the Los Angeles Civil
Rights Association and the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable--delivered these messages to the cameras rolling during a press conference Tuesday morning.Â They stated Kaiser created a hostile work environment for its employees, had wrongfully terminated those present and that though they had not yet filed any lawsuits, they were more than prepared to do so, especially should Kaiser not meet three conditions.
"I am here ... to make three demands" Deborah Ortiz Washington, a former employee of another one of Kaiser's branches, said. "Number one, we would like reinstatement, pending review, with full compensation to the employees."
"Number two," she continued, "We would like an end to all retaliatory practices, including
harassment and hostile environment."
"And finally number three," she ended, "we would like fair arbitration for all."
Ortiz Washington had been the manager of one of Kaiser Permanente's Orange County
clinics until she developed fibromyalgia a couple of years ago. Forced to stop working because of her illness, she applied for disability.
"I was denied because they said I could work, as my job was sedentary," Ortiz Washington
said, shaking her head.Â "I mean, come on."
Told, she said, by the non-profit's Human Resources department, that she had an unlimited
number of times to appeal Kaiser's disability refusal, she continued to do so.
"I was given erroneous information," she said, "Kaiser denied me disability, saying I had
exhausted the appeals process."
Currently living off a private disability policy, Ortiz Washington stated she would like to see Â
her erstwhile employer give her 75 percent of her old salary in addition to benefits.
Johnny McGlory joined her in criticizing Kaiser.
"I worked here 20 years," he explained. "I had a clean record, and then all of a sudden, three
women said that I sexually harassed them."
"I have a wife and a daughter and a home," he continued.Â "Those [women] said that because they wanted me out. The company was downsizing, and I had been there longer."
McGlory said that though he had been working in the medical records department for 20
years, the head of the department, Quentella Williams, was not fond of him and would not take his side.
Toting a thick folder with a list of grievances and what he described as evidence he would use in court against the company, he pulled out a letter he had written Williams in 2004, stating how his boss Edna Lynch, now retired, denied him a four-day vacation he had requested two months in advance and uttered snide, insulting comments towards him under her breath.
Rather than fire Lynch, intervene with Williams or question the motives of the women
accusing him of harassment, he said, Kaiser fired him, and he thought that a pretty low blow to deal an employee of 20 years.
But when asked about both the letter and McGlory's situation, Williams stated flatly "I know
nothing of any letter. I have no comments about these matters, him or the letter."
Kaiser's more formal statement contained elements of Williams'.
The reporter visited the organization's media relations department and spoke to its
representative, who answered more detailed questions in an e-mail.
When asked to respond to the former employees' descriptions of wrongful termination and
hostile work environment, Kaiser's Public Affairs Director Mehera Christian wrote, "These are
personal matters, so we cannot comment on the nature of their individual cases other than to say that the actions taken were appropriate."
"Kaiser Permanente's ... employees reflect the communities we serve," she continued, "and
we are confident that we treat all employees with dignity and respect."
But columnist, radio presence, event organizer and Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable
President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said, "We have meetings addressing different issues every
Saturday at 10 a.m., and 12 Kaiser employees showed up [last week] saying the same things."
"Where there's smoke, there's fire," he said.
"Kaiser's not some fly-by-night operation," he said. "We're talking about one of the
largest, most prominent, well-positioned organizations. If there's something wrong, we have to
But why would so many workers come out of the woodwork now?
"The Lupoe family murder-suicide has a lot to do with it," black-suit-clad Los Angeles Civil
Rights Association and event organizer Eddie Jones said.
Earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente laid off employees Ervin Lupoe and wife, Ana.
Following the job loss, Ervin Lupoe murdered his wife and five children before killing himself.
"His boss told him [in jest] to shoot himself," Jones added, saying that Kaiser cared little for
its employees and that boss found goading a desperate man funny.
In any case, those employees coming forward will not be standing idly by and will look to
individuals like Jones to help them wage a legal battle against Kaiser until it meets those three demands.
If they need to, he said, "we will pursue a class action against them [Kaiser]."