Brookdale Senior Living will pay $80,000, update its anti-retaliation policies and train employees on compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws to settle a retaliation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement comes after Gwendolyn Grayson, an African American resident care associate / medication technician at Brookdale Auburn, an Auburn, CA, assisted living and memory care community, maintained that she was fired after complaining about alleged discrimination and comments “with racial connotations” made by co-workers. 

The lawsuit sought back pay with interest, as well as compensation for past and future losses resulting from her termination, including emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation. The suit also sought punitive damages against Brookdale for its “malicious and reckless conduct.”

A Brookdale spokeswoman said the company disagrees with the EEOC’s findings in the case but “agreed to enter into an agreement to reinforce its commitment to applicants and associates protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.” 

According to the complaint, filed May 18, Grayson overheard two female coworkers in 2018 make a comment she considered “racially insensitive” and told her co-workers she was uncomfortable. She followed up with management, which led to a meeting at which Grayson “was required to justify why she was offended by her coworkers’ comment. She believed the executive director was challenging her belief that such a comment could offend.”

The next morning, Grasyon lodged a complaint with Brookdale’s compliance hotline. She described her interaction with her coworkers and “complained that the executive director had retaliated against her for expressing a belief that the coworkers’ comment was racist.” Later that same day, Brookdale placed Grayson on an immediate suspension pending an investigation into “purported unprofessional behavior.”

On June 27, 2018, according to the lawsuit, the executive director sent Grayson a letter saying that she had “not responded to repeated attempts” to contact her, accused her of “abandoning her position” and terminated her employment. Grayson contended that she left several voicemail messages in the week following her suspension to inquire about when she would be allowed to return to work but that her calls were not returned.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Brookdale made no admission of wrongdoing, and the company specifically denied that it violated any federal law. A spokeswoman said Brookdale “is proud to be an equal opportunity employer and we remain committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, and to prohibiting unlawful retaliation.”

“Brookdale disagrees with the EEOC’s findings in this matter, but is pleased it was able to work jointly with the EEOC in resolving these disputed claims,” Heather Hunter, a senior public relations specialist at Brookdale, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Accordingly, Brookdale agreed to enter into an agreement to reinforce its commitment to applicants and associates protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.” 

In the settlement, Brookdale agreed to pay Grayson $80,000, which represents $6,000 in lost wages and $74,000 in compensatory damages. The company must review and revise its anti-discrimination policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination and retaliation.

Grayson agreed to sign a non-disparagement and/or confidentiality agreement, waive her right to file a future charge, and refrain from applying for a job with Brookdale.

The consent decree is in effect for two years.