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Santa Monica Medical Center Employee Awarded Nearly $1.6 Million in Racial Harassment Suit

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By Jorge Casuso

August 7, 2019 -- A black former phlebotomist at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica who accused her Latino co-workers of racial harassment was awarded nearly $1.6 million in damages by a jury Tuesday.

While the Los Angeles Superior Court jury rejected Nicole Birden's claim that her 2016 firing was racially motivated, it found she was subjected to severe or pervasive harassment because she is black.

The jury -- which also found that Birden's supervisors failed to take corrective actions -- ordered the UC Regents to pay her for past and future economic losses, emotional stress and mental harm.

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Birden, 48, was awarded $500,000 for past emotional distress and mental harm, $800,000 for future emotional distress and mental harm, more than $190,000 for past economic loss and more than $86,000 for future economic loss, according to City News Service.

"We are thankful that a diverse Los Angeles jury could come together and give Ms. Birden the justice she deserved after a hard-fought jury trial," her attorney V. James DeSimone said.

In a statement issued Tuesday, UCLA Health said it was disappointed with the verdict and was reviewing its legal options.

"UCLA Health is committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation of any kind," the statement said.

"Ensuring a respectful and inclusive environment is essential to the university's mission, and employees are encouraged to report any concerns so that they can be reviewed and appropriately addressed consistent with UCLA and University of California policies."

Filed in May 2017, the lawsuit claimed that Birden was one of a half dozen employees in the predominantly Latino department and was subjected to racial slurs and disparaging remarks.

It claimed the co-corkers called Birden "my n---a," played rap music that used the term and called her "lazy," "dark woman" and "liar" in Spanish.

The suit also alleged that co-workers made "harassing phone calls to Birden during work hours and tampered with blood specimens she had drawn," according to a report in the Daily Bruin.

According to the plaintiff's attorney, Birden had not been previously reprimanded nor received previous disciplinary action.

During the trail DeSimone said that Birden reported her mistreatment numerous times but "her complaints fell on deaf ears," City News reported.

During the trial, UC Board of Regents attorney Stephen Ronk, argued that Birden was fired because of a "clear pattern of performance issues."

Ronk told jurors that Birden's initial complaints did not indicate she was treated differently because she was black, according to City News Service.

"All of that came after the fact," Ronk said.

Birden, he said, had a "clear pattern of performance issues" and "none of it had to do with race."

Court documents submitted by the defense claimed that dispatchers who called Birden to draw blood from patients complained that she would "disappear for long periods during her shift."

Birden currently works for Kaiser Permanente, but has fewer benefits, her attorney said.

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