Kaiser to pay $18.9 million to settle pay equity lawsuits by Black and Latino staff
San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 2021
By Mallory Moench
Oakland-based health care giant Kaiser Permanente is settling two class-action lawsuits over unequal pay, one on behalf of Black employees for $11.5 million and the other for Latino employees for $7.4 million.
The first case was filed in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday by four current and former Black employees on behalf of 2,225 workers in two job categories — administrative support and consulting services.
The complaint alleged Kaiser paid Black employees less than non-Black employees for doing similar work and failed to promote Black employees compared to non-Black employees despite similar performance reviews.
The filing was a formality to get court approval, as parties already agreed to the settlement terms after mediation. Attorneys for the employees investigated the case for more than two years.
“As an African American current employee, I have come forward to raise issues of racial equity to make our workplace stronger,” plaintiff Charleta Dabrowski said in a statement released Thursday. “I support new programs dedicated to ensuring equal pay and fair opportunities.”
The second case was filed in Alameda County Superior Court in June by a Latino employee on behalf of approximately 2,500 others in administrative support, consulting services and similar positions. The complaint alleged that Kaiser paid Latino employees less than white workers and discriminated in hiring, with Latino employees disproportionately working in the lowest-paying jobs and underrepresented in management.
Michael Cuenca, who worked for Kaiser for 10 years in diversity and inclusion and human resources, filed an internal complaint alleging racial pay discrimination in 2019 that was rejected in 2020, according to court documents. He also sent emails to executive leadership — starting with then-CEO Bernard Tyson — with a data report saying Latino employees were paid up to tens of thousands of dollars a year less than non-Latino colleagues. Cuenca was placed on administrative leave in July and, as of recently, is no longer working for the company.
“I’m pleased to have been able to help move (Kaiser) beyond the rhetoric of diversity with real and significant steps toward a more just and equitable workplace,” Cuenca said in a statement Friday.
Kaiser said it chose to settle the two suits, representing a total of around 4,800 current and former Black and Latino employees, on negotiated terms.
Christian Meisner, Kaiser’s chief human resources officer, said the company was “saddened to learn that any employee would feel discriminated against at Kaiser Permanente,” in a statement. “While various elements of the lawsuits are subject to dispute, we recognize the importance of listening and learning from our employees.” Meisner said the company will “hold ourselves accountable… to address any disparities and their root causes.”
As part of the settlements, Kaiser will retain an independent consultant to conduct a job and pay analysis review and use the data to create more opportunities and career development for Black and Latino employees. The company will also conduct annual pay analyses, addressing any disparities, for the next three years. Finally, it will invest in more leadership development for underrepresented groups and racial bias training.
The Black plaintiffs were represented by two firms — Medina Orthwein and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. The Latino plaintiff was represented by firms Bryan Schwartz Law and Nichols Kaster.
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