MMMC faces lawsuit by registered nurses

Four registered nurses of Asian descent are suing Maui Memorial Medical Center, alleging hospital managers didn’t correct problems when the nurses were discriminated against and harassed by their supervisor based on their race.

Joanne Bates, Gayle Edgamin, Gabrielle Nguyen and Janice Tippery were subjected to a hostile work environment that led two of them to leave their jobs at the hospital, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

The four suffered financial losses when they were not given extra shifts that went to less qualified and less experienced non-Asian employees, according to the lawsuit.

“The discrimination has had far-reaching effect for my four clients, who were case managers at Maui Memorial,” said Honolulu attorney David Simons, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nurses. “All of them are registered nurses, skilled in hospital nursing.”

Hospital officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon.

“We don’t have a comment at this time, as we have not yet been served with any complaint,” said hospital spokeswoman Carol Clark.

Simonds said the four nurses had worked their way up to be case managers, who coordinate medical care for patients to make sure a team approach is used.

They were discriminated against and harassed by their supervisor, a registered nurse who is Caucasian and who held the position of case manager director from approximately 2005 through July, the lawsuit alleges. On one occasion at lunch, she allegedly told the plaintiffs’ Caucasian co-worker that “she should not sit with the ‘backstabbing Filipinos,’ referring to plaintiffs and other Filipino workers,” according to the lawsuit.

Bates, who still works at the Wailuku hospital, was denied promotions, vacation requests and special assignments and suffered intimidation, threats and unfair performance evaluations, according to the lawsuit.

“You would expect that if there was ever a place where individual civil rights would be supported and racism would not be tolerated, it would be at Maui Memorial, a hospital dedicated to caring for people, and supported by our state tax dollars,” Bates said in a statement. “It has been deeply frustrating and sad for me as an employee hired in 1991, who has devoted her career to caring for patients, to be victimized and to see my Asian co-workers also victimized by discrimination because of our race.”

Bates, Edgamin and Tippery are of Filipino descent, while Nguyen is of Vietnamese descent.

The four nurses went to hospital managers, including Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo and the hospital’s director of clinical operations, many times starting in 2008 to notify them of the discrimination and the complaints, the lawsuit says.

“Neither . . . took effective corrective action to stop the discrimination,” according to the lawsuit.

When Bates filed a grievance, Lo found against her, and her union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, didn’t take the grievance to arbitration, Simons said. He said another grievance Bates filed in 2012 has been pending for more than a year.

“My clients tried to solve this problem internally, but after being turned down again and again by Maui Memorial, they were left with no choice but to go outside of the system and file a lawsuit in federal court,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Edgamin had worked at the hospital from 1990 until she left in October 2011 for another nursing job, after she had been part of an interview panel to select a new case manager. Although other candidates were more experienced and qualified and were ranked higher by Edgamin and the other panel member, the case manager director selected a Caucasian candidate for the position, the lawsuit says.

Nguyen, who began working at the hospital in 2011, left in March 2013 to return to California after suffering discrimination including being denied a promotion that she was qualified for, according to the lawsuit. Two Caucasian applicants were selected over Nguyen and another Asian candidate who were more qualified, the lawsuit alleges.

Tippery, who has worked at the hospital since 1994, was denied vacation requests that were granted for non-Asian case managers in similar situations, the lawsuit says. In addition, other less-qualified, non-Asian employees were selected for assignments that Tippery had requested, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at