Black Experience

Black Nurse to Receive $3.8 Million After Finding Picture of Noose, Racist Messages on Work Locker

A Black woman in Honolulu will receive monetary relief after filing a discrimination lawsuit stating she was left a picture of a noose and a message containing a racial slur at work.

Ellen Harris, a registered nurse in Hawaii, worked for Queen’s Medical Center from 2006 to 2011 in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). During this time she reported several patient safety issues that occurred there.

“It escalated to the point where she reports a nurse walking by a patient who’s actually pulling out their ventilator tube and not doing anything and saying, ‘Hey Ellen, your patient’s doing some crazy stuff,’” Harris’ attorney, Carl Varady, said at a news conference.

“She gets this the next day after making that report,” Varady said, holding up a note Harris received calling her a “LAZY A** N*GGER B*TCH.”

A few weeks later she received another note, this one a photo of a hangman’s noose.

Harris had no idea who left her the notes but reported the incidents to her employer, who Harris says never shared the results of any investigation. According to PR Newswire, Harris requested an escort from the parking lot to the building because she was afraid — but her employer denied the request because she found the picture of the noose on her locker, not the parking lot.

Meanwhile, Harris remained fearful.

“It was just kind of that fear after that, especially not knowing exactly who did it,” she said.

“From start to finish Queen’s never apologized, never admitted liability,” Harris’ attorney said.

Queen’s remains unremorseful, according to a statement from a spokesperson.

“We are very disappointed in today’s verdict and will be filing an appeal. Because this is pending litigation, we will not comment further.”

A jury ruled Harris will receive a total of about $3.8 million. According to Harris, while her former employer never apologized or admitted the incident was — to say the least — wrong, the jury’s ruling signifies that.

“To hear a Hawaii jury say that was wrong … That meant a lot to me … more than anything,” Harris said.

Harris, who is married with two children, moved to Hawaii in hopes of a more inclusive environment than that from which she came, according to PR Newswire:

“I grew up in rural Mississippi where the Klan marched and African Americans were expected to stay in their place or pay a price. When our children were young, we moved to Hawaii so they could grow up in a more tolerant diverse environment, which we experienced here before they were born, when my husband was stationed here. We taught our children to practice ‘aloha.’ It was devastating to have to tell them about the message I got and then have go back to work each day knowing one or more of my co-workers felt safe enough to make this hateful statement about me. I hope by this jury’s verdict no one in Hawaii will ever have to experience this kind of hate in the workplace again.”

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