Nurse Awarded $3.8M for Racial Harassment

HONOLULU — A Honolulu nurse has been awarded nearly $4 million after an image of a noose was taped to her locker and a racist note was left in her hospital mailbox.

A jury awarded Ellen Harris, a former Queen’s Medical Center nurse, $630,000 in general damages and $3.2 million in punitive damages after finding that she was harassed and discriminated against for reporting suspected wrongdoing in 2011.

The jury found that race was a substantial motivating factor in the harassment and that the conditions created a hostile work environment.

“All 12 jurors just said, ‘This is not Hawaii,’” said Carl Varady, Harris’ attorney. “’We’re the Aloha State. We’re not going down the pathway of hate.’”

Jurors were told that Harris, the only black nurse at the time in the medical intensive care unit, reported concerns to management that a co-worker was stealing narcotics intended for patients. Two other nurses eventually reported the same drug-use suspicions to management, Varaday said.

After Harris reported her initial patient-safety concerns to management, the harassment against her intensified, and she found the racist note in her mailbox the next day, Varaday said.

Queen’s Medical Center spokesman Cedric Yamanaka said the center is disappointed in the verdict and will be filing an appeal.

The case was one of two discrimination cases in Hawaii filed by African-American workers that included the use of a noose.

In the other case, Hawaiian Airlines worker Timothy Degrate filed a lawsuit claiming he complained to management for months about a hostile work environment, including racial harassment.

Despite the complaints, he found a noose fashioned from rope hanging on the locker next to his in August 2016.

Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement in January that an independent investigation of Degrate’s allegations was unable to verify actions by specific individuals. It also said the airline was committed to maintaining a fair and safe work environment.

The lawsuit is pending.

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