August 13, 2020
By: Deborah Childress
TAMPA, Fla- A discrimination lawsuit has been filed by a former patient care technician employed by Florida Health Science Center, Inc., doing business as Tampa General Hospital. Desiree Pitts, the Plaintiff, alleges she was fired because of her race as an African American.
Pitts initially filed a formal complaint of discrimination with the Florida Commission on Human Relations on June 25, 2019. According to the lawsuit, there has been no ruling from the Commission regarding the complaint.
Pitts served at the primary teaching hospital for nearly two years and was in part, accountable to monitor patient safety via video observation. The position was executed in approximately four-hour spurts to maximize employees’ abilities to focus and maintain a high level of concentration. During her employ, she was nominated for an “Icare” Award which recognizes employees for delivering extraordinary care. She received one verbal coaching during her tenure and no other disciplinary actions or write-ups were applied against her.
Tampa General Hospital’s policy for video monitors restricts activities of reading or using cell phones to make calls or text messages. A “Please Do Not Disturb the Monitor Tech” is displayed on the back of the technicians’ chairs. On May 21, 2019, Pitts was assigned to video monitoring, and during her shift, asked another employee to replace her while she went to get a drink. The employee consented and adjusted her chair to watch the video while Pitts was absent. While walking to the breakroom, another employee, Ms. Davis, watched as Pitts began to use her cellphone. The employee approached Pitts and indicated she had been given strict orders to report to the Manager of Transplant Nursing Units anyone on their cell phones. In defense, Pitts replied that she was not on her cell phone while she was monitoring.
Returning to her video monitor, Pitts thanked her fellow employee for watching the video while she went for a drink. Shortly thereafter, Pitts noticed an employee in a patient room reaching for something on a shelf. She inquired as to why the employee was in the room. The employee replied the patient’s IV was out.
Davis, along with an assigned nurse, walked into the patient’s room. A few minutes later, Davis approached Pitts at the video monitor and said she had been told that Pitts was looking at clothes on her cell phone. Pitts denied the claim and asked Davis who gave her that information, but Davis was unwilling to disclose her source. Davis then informed Pitts that if she couldn’t handle sitting, she should switch.
The employee who had agreed to watch the video as Pitts left to get a drink, confessed that it was she who had been looking at clothes on her phone after agreeing to watch the video.
Davis instructed Pitts to follow her in order to engage in a private conversation, at which time, Davis expressed her dissatisfaction with Pitt’s manner while speaking to her. Pitts claims she apologized to Davis and returned to her video monitor.
When asked by a fellow employee why she was confronted by Davis, Pitts replied, “I don’t know.” Later, Davis called Pitts to her office and sent her home for the rest of the shift.
Within approximately a day, an employee, Ms. Junco, called and texted Pitts, indicating they must meet with Human Resources before Pitts could return to work.
Established as “on leave,” Pitts could not work again until the meeting was held. The meeting occurred on May 31, 2019, where Pitts explained what happened during the incident with Davis. On June 10, 2019, Human Resources notified Pitts she was terminated for use of profanity in an on-stage area.
However, in months prior, a white female was disciplined for using profane language in an on-stage area and placed on administrative leave – an incident that also involved Davis – but was not terminated, leading to the conclusion that Davis was prejudiced against Pitts because of her race.
In the lawsuit, it is indicated that Pitts suffered lost wages and emotional distress due to racial discrimination. Compensation is allowed under the Violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit presents one count against the defendant, noted as “Violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act for Discrimination on the Basis of Race.” Further damages against Pitts were expressed in the count, including humiliation, embarrassment, and damage to her professional reputation.
Demand for back pay, front pay, prejudgment interest, unreceived employee benefits compensation, and attorneys’ fees are listed, as is a demand for the discipline and termination of any employee of Florida Health Science Center, Inc. (Tampa General Hospital) found to have discriminated on the basis of race against Pitts.
Attorneys for Ms. Pitts are Jason W. Imler and Gary L. Printy, Jr. of Printy and Printy, P.A., Tampa, Florida. The attorneys could not be reached for comment.