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Suit alleges age, race bias at Springfield Black trainee, 56, denied promotion


A Springfield Hospital Center employee was passed over for promotion because of age and race, he alleges in a complaint filed April 2 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In his filing Roland Stewart says, "I believe I have been discriminated and retaliated against in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act because of my race -- black -- and age -- 56 -- with respect to denial of promotion and layoff."

The hospital hired Mr. Stewart, who lives in Baltimore, as a "direct care trainee" in 1989 at a $588 biweekly salary. He accepted the job with the idea of undergoing the "usual six months' training," he said last week.

The six months have stretched to more than four years with no promotion and no reason given for keeping him in the training program.

"I received no other explanation for not being promoted other than the job freeze," he said. "My supervisor pulled my file and found no reprimands or suspensions."

Dr. Bruce Hershfield, superintendent of the Sykesville hospital for the mentally ill, declined to offer an explanation.

"I don't want to comment at all," he said Friday.

In the past four years, Mr. Stewart has received several "excellent" or "satisfactory" job performance evaluations from his supervisors. Last May, he scored a perfect 100 on his evaluation. More recently, his immediate supervisor rated him satisfactory. He has forwarded copies of all the evaluations to the EEOC.

Two of his supervisors declined to comment on his evaluations. One of his supervisors was out of town last week and couldn't be reached for comment.

But Randy Roberts, a Springfield staff psychiatrist, wrote in an August 1992 memo his appreciation for Mr. Stewart's efforts on behalf of patients.

Along with a team leader, "Roland Stewart designed, implemented and continued to run a behavior incentive program," he wrote.

"The group put in much time and effort on their own to set up individual goals for patients, chart progress and work out the procedure for providing incentives."

Mr. Stewart "developed and ran an exercise and sports group, which provided patients with much-needed physical activities," the memo said. Dr. Roberts on Friday acknowledged writing the memo, but declined to comment on Mr. Stewart's complaint.

Two months ago, Mr. Stewart said, he reached the "frustration point" when his employer selected six other trainees, all white males under 40, for promotion. The men all had less than two years' experience, he said.

He took his complaint to the hospital's personnel coordinator.

One week later, he was informed his job would be eliminated on June 30.

"I protested discriminatory practices and a week afterward, I was told I would be laid off," he said.

Administrators told him the lay-off was due to downsizing and had nothing to do with his protest. Ten other trainees also received layoff notices, while the hospital hired five registered nurses, whose salaries are about $40,000 a year.

"They have RNs doing the work of aides, and the nurses resent it," he said.

Mr. Stewart said the downsizing is affecting the quality of care and the safety of staff.

"The patients are suffering as much as we are," he said. "There aren't enough of us to give them the quality of care they need."

He said he enjoys the work and feels he is contributing to patients' well-being.

"Basically, I like the job and I would stay here, if I am promoted," he said.

The job is not without risk, he said.

A patient broke Mr. Stewart's hand last year.

"While I was making sure the door to his room was unlocked, he caught my hand in it," he said. "It was two minutes before anyone came to help me."

Mr. Stewart went on sick leave for several months after the incident and returned to modified duty for several months following surgery.

He said he does not fear reprisal as a result of the lawsuit. Because he doesn't have the financial obligations of his co-workers, he said, he is more willing to take action.

"Others in the same situation are looking to me for leadership," he said. "I am doing this for them as much as for myself. They wanted someone with backbone to speak."

Ten co-workers have agreed to testify in his behalf at the hearing but were unwilling to comment on the suit.

"If you are good and capable at what you do, you should be given a chance," he said. "I am not asking for anything more than justice."

He said he knows he may lose his job as a result of the lawsuit.

"I am determined to bring out the truth and bring things to a head," he said. "Others have given me information and encouraged me to do this. I am not worried about retaliation."

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