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Kaiser Permanente paying $11.5 million to settle racial discrimination class-action lawsuit

Kaiser is agreeing to institute comprehensive workplace programs to ensure compensation is fair and equitable.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

(Photo by Sundry Photography\Getty Images)(Photo by Sundry Photography\Getty Images)

Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California announced Thursday it is paying $11.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging it discriminated against employees on the basis of race, ending a two-year negotiation process involving more than 2,000 Black employees in consulting services and administrative support.

In addition to the money, Kaiser is agreeing to institute comprehensive workplace programs to ensure that African American employees' compensation and opportunities for advancement are fair and equitable. 

In the future, Kaiser will retain an independent consultant to develop and manage a thorough job-analysis review to be completed within one year. The review will be used to create additional equitable opportunities for Black employees, including career development guides and developmental resource guides for roles within the job families.

The hospital has also agreed to conduct an annual pay analysis for certain job classifications, which will be performed by an independent consultant for three years, wherein base pay, incentive pay and promotions will be reviewed with an eye toward equity -- and the swift remediation of any existing disparities. Kaiser will also continue annual pay reviews and appoint an internal compliance officer to oversee the implementation of these policies, and continue its compliance with the settlement agreement.

Some of the structural changes promised by the organization include investing in more leadership-development initiatives for historically underrepresented groups; additional training for employees and management on racial bias and equity, including Upstander Intervention and racial equity trainings; and debiasing programs for those engaged in enforcing company policy on equal employment opportunity. 

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

The settlement comes just days after the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. Floyd's death spurred a heated national conversation on race and the treatment of minority and disadvantaged groups.

It spurred Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to vow to tackle racism as a serious public health threat

This past year, racial inequalities brought more in focus by the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts, along with public policy and funding, has put the healthcare community on the front lines of ensuring equitable care for vulnerable populations.

Earlier this month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky declared racism to be a serious public health threat. Meanwhile, health systems and physicians have called for parity in the treatment of all individuals. Mass General Brigham and Johns Hopkins Medicine physicians said they want to end the elimination of harmful language such as the clinical diagnosis, "Red Man Syndrome."

THE LARGER TREND

The next step for the class-action suit is for the court to set a hearing date for preliminary settlement approval. If approved, this would result in the third-party administrator issuing notice to the 2,225 class members. If the court later grants final settlement approval, the third-party administrator will allocate settlement amounts based on an objective formula to each qualifying class member.

ON THE RECORD

"As an African American current employee, I have come forward to raise issues of racial equity to make our workplace stronger," said plaintiff Charleta Dabrowski. "I support new programs dedicated to ensuring equal pay and fair opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and people of color at Kaiser Permanente."

"As a mission-driven organization, we hold ourselves accountable for living our values by strengthening our inclusive culture and expanding our work to address any disparities and their root causes," said Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, speaking on behalf of the Kaiser defendants.

"That is why we invited plaintiffs to participate in a negotiation process that led to this settlement. Across Kaiser Permanente we are increasing our efforts to advocate for fair and just treatment, opportunity, and advancement, as well as embedding accountability for equity at all levels of the organization. We will continue to promote positive change, equity, and total health for all – inside our organization and within our communities."

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Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com