Having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? John Saracino probably has you beat.
He allegedly offered dubious advice that helped put a $20 million verdict in motion. His was a suggestion that could have just as easily been made to a senior living worker – and probably already has.
You see, Saracino is a member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners. According to court testimony, he told Sgt. Keith Wildhaber to “tone down” the officer’s gayness if he wanted to move up in the ranks. Saracino also allegedly said police command had “a problem” with Wildhaber’s sexual orientation.
Wildhaber sued the department in 2017, claiming he had been passed over for a promotion 23 times despite stellar performance reviews. The suit cited departmental discrimination and retaliation.
His lawyers apparently made a convincing argument. In late October, a jury awarded Wildhaber nearly $20 million. This is hardly the final word, as an appeal seems likely.
Still, one has to wonder how this kind of thing could have happened. Then again, maybe it’s not so shocking after all.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time covering crime stories over the years and have several relatives and friends who have worn (and continue to wear) the badge. I’ve met many brave, hardworking officers who are a lot more courageous than I could ever hope to be. It’s an honorable, challenging and high-stress line of work. But it attracts some odd birds as well. And more than a few seem to revel in promoting old-school, macho attitudes.
Did I find it surprising that a gay police officer might have his orientation challenged or career progression delayed? Hardly.
What does this have to do with senior living organizations? Well, quite a few have their own cultural divides to deal with. Let’s start with the customers, your residents. Many come from backgrounds where religious, racial and other tolerance might not have been paramount. Quite a few have dementia or other cognitive challenges. Moreover, many are unwilling or unable to filter their thoughts.
We’ve all seen it: A thought occurs, and it is immediately revealed. The result can be bizarre, insulting or disparaging comments on virtually any topic. It might be kids these days, politics, dessert selections or the nearest caregiver.
As for your caregivers, they are becoming increasingly diverse in their backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyle choices and other matters. Which is fine. After all, this is America, right?
But what happens when a set-in-her-ways resident finds a caregiver’s dress or sexual orientation offensive?
And what happens if a resident’s child says a caregiver is too gay? Or too black? Or too Catholic?
That can put your organization in a bind. Do you appease the request or risk upsetting the customer? The choice is not always so easy. After all, that might be more than $50,000 a year walking out the door. And occupancy levels are not exactly at an all-time high.
I’m no HR expert, but I do know this: Telling the employee to “tone it down” just might prove to be far more costly.