PALO ALTO, Calif. - Qiqiuia Young was more than shocked when a colleague at Stanford Health Care dressed in a white sheet on Halloween, pretending to be a member of the KKK.
As an African-American woman with Cherokee roots whose family fled Oklahoma to escape racism, she couldn’t believe what she saw.
That was three years ago, and the racism Young has witnessed firsthand at Stanford has only gotten worse, according to a 125-page lawsuit she and her attorney, Lara Villarreal Hutner of San Francisco filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court.
“She was singled out and harassed based on her race,” Hutner said Friday. “And when she reports it to management, they blame her for not reporting anything sooner. The KKK incident was the seed, but far from the whole thing. “
In fact, right after the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer, Stanford held a town hall meeting. Young, who is the technician in Stanford’s Pelvic Floor Clinic, heard several medical students say they too have experienced racism and retaliation, including seeing their grades drop when they complain about it to superiors.
That KKK incident opened up a Pandora’s box at Stanford exposing both racism and safety violations, the lawsuit claims, which was filed when a cancer surgeon inspired Young she couldn't keep quiet any longer.
Stanford on the one hand acknowledged the KKK incident because the health care center terminated everyone involved. Yet in the same breath, Stanford Health Care vigorously denied the claims and sent a statement on Friday to KTVU saying in part, “there is no question that the lawsuit contains many untruths and exaggerations…. SHC has zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination, retaliation or disrespectful conduct.”
The statement continued: “Contrary to Ms. Young’s allegations, SHC has been extremely proactive in addressing all of Ms. Young’s concerns.”
That is not how Young sees it.
Each time she reported the behavior, Young alleges, she was blamed, bullied and made to feel like she was crazy. Instead of investigating the claims, the suit alleges that the managers denied any wrongdoing, failed to promote her, excluded her from meetings, trumped up false accusations against her, moved her to an isolated location with worse and drastically reduced work hours, and stripped her of her more advanced job responsibilities. Young is suing Stanford University and Stanford Health Care claiming unlawful retaliation, failure to prevent unlawful harassment and assault and battery, among other allegations.
Her lawyer also said that Stanford Health Care did not have diversity training sessions in place, which resulted in this hostile work environment for her client.
Stanford responded that the health care center “has never retaliated against Ms. Young, she continues to work for SHC and has even been promoted since her complaints began.” Hutner acknowledged that Young was "technically" promoted but removed her from the Cancer Center to a remote location, which she alleges is improperly staffed and gives her no room for advancement.
Some of Young’s complaints cited in the lawsuit include:
1. Colleagues used the N- word in her presence and she was accused of lying about it. After reporting further instances of co-workers using the “N” word at work, Young’s manager sent two racist videos to her, both of which repeat the “N” word and one of which “joked” about the racist stereotype about black women loving fried chicken,” the suit claims.
2. Discovery of fecal-covered rubber bands on medical equipment that had been inserted into surgery patients.
3. Learning that a co-worker had muttered “Go pray in your own f—ing country!” to a Muslim patient praying in the waiting room in November 2016. Young’s husband is Muslim.
4. A supervisor allegedly shoved furniture into Young in the hallway and followed her to New Park Mall in Newark after she reported her co-workers continuing to use the N- word at work.
5. Hearing a colleague “explain” to an African-American patient that an anal catheter was accidentally inserted into her vagina because the patient’s skin was too “dark down there.”
Young’s disillusionment with Stanford came to a head when a colleague in the GI oncology team told her she was going to dress as the KKK on Halloween in 2014, another colleague ended up doing it, and yet another colleague photographed it and circulated the picture.
That photograph was submitted to the court as evidence. Though the employee is not wearing a pointed hat, the lawsuit alleges that the employee with a pillowcase was meant to create a “hostile work environment.” Young told the director of the department about it, and managers “took no action,” the suit claims. The suit claims that on previous Halloweens, staff had come dressed in “blackface,” and nothing was done either.
On top of that, the suit alleges that the colleague who took a photo of the medical assistant with a pillowcase over her head, also had taken a photo of a patient’s disfigured “perineum, the area between the genitalia and anus, joking that the KKK was going to do the same thing to Qiquia [MS. YOUNG], an African-American/Cherokee medical assistant.” That event was reported to Stanford's president.
Stanford specifically addressed the KKK incident acknowledging to KTVU hat it happened. But Stanford said those involved were let go: “SHC denounced such abhorrent conduct and terminated all of the employees involved …including those who merely saw the photo and did not to report it to management and the supervisor. SHC also terminated the employee who Ms. Young claims took an inappropriate picture of a patient.”
Hutner said she decided to file the complaint in Alameda County Superior Court, which she believes is a more favorable jurisdiction than Santa Clara County, for her client, who lives in the East Bay.
"Racism is endemic at Stanford," Hutner said, "and she wants the public to know."