Judge says African-Americans can proceed with class action against Kaiser

Two former Kaiser hospital employees claim Kaiser has a policy of discriminating against workers on the basis of race, gender and age. The workers allege their own experiences of being harassed, being denied promotions and ultimately being wrongfully terminated are common to other female, African-American employees over 40, and Kaiser Permanente uses a totally arbitrary, subjective system when making employment decisions.

Although the two women worked in different areas, their experiences were similar. Lunell Gamble worked in human resources for Kaiser for 16 years before being allegedly wrongful terminated. She claims that, despite being qualified and having an excellent performance record, she was denied promotions for years.

Then, in 2012, a new supervisor began harassing her. The supervisor once followed Gamble into a bathroom to accuse her of being lazy, according to the complaint. She scolded Gamble in front of others for laughing. She claimed the entire department had complained about Gamble's perfume -- then admitted that she alone had complained.

In 2014, Gamble received a negative performance evaluation containing allegedly false accusations that she had been hostile toward the supervisor who had been harassing her. She was given a final written warning. Despite making improvements and also trying to address the issue with hospital officials, Gamble was fired within a month of the final warning.

Sheila Kennedy worked in Kaiser's chemical dependency and rehabilitation programs for 16 years. She says that she, too, was denied promotions, pay raises and transfers that were given to non-black employees. When she complained, she was fired.

Federal judge turns back Kaiser's defenses

Kaiser claimed that neither of the two plaintiffs had described plausible claims that class-wide discrimination was occurring at Kaiser. A federal judge in Oakland ruled that they didn't have to do so; their allegation that Kaiser's system for making employment decisions is arbitrary and subjective is sufficient for the case to move forward.

Kaiser also argued that neither plaintiff identified a specific policy that had a tendency to harm African-Americans more than other people. The judge ruled that Kennedy had indeed raised such a claim and that Gamble could piggy-back on Kennedy's claim for the purpose of determining if they had a case.

It's too early to know whether class-action status will be granted in this case. Also, the judge did not rule on the merits of the case. She merely determined that the plaintiffs' claims were substantial enough that their lawsuit should not be turned away.