Workers Say They Were Fired for Refusing to Discriminate in Hiring

April 14, 2006 ( - HealthHelp, a radiology benefits management company, has agreed to pay $450,000 to three ex-workers who claim they were fired for refusing to follow a directive not to hire black or Jewish people for a client in Oregon.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the company for retaliation on behalf of Arlene Warren, Janice Hagy and Carolyn Johnson, who worked in its Phoenix office. The company’s CEO denied the allegations, saying the three were laid off because the company was closing several branch offices.

The EEOC said Hagy and Warren were told by HealthHelp’s executive director of corporate development in May 2001 not to hire blacks or Jews for the client in Oregon, according to the Chronicle. The two reported the order to their boss, Johnson, who then notified the company’s director of human resources as well as its vice president that none of them would follow it since it would violate federal law, the lawsuit said. In June 2001, the three were fired.

Sally Shanley, acting supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC in Phoenix, said the agency obtained evidence that HealthHelp was steering certain employees away from Oregon because of concern they could be victims of hate crimes there as well as evidence it was trying to meet a specific client request. Cherrill Farnsworth, CEO of HealthHelp, said the company told its employees that it had received a warning in a public forum about hate groups in Oregon. Employees were told they did not have to go to Oregon, but it was their choice. She said liability was a worry if the company had not passed the warning along.

Farnsworth said the company is not prejudiced in any way and that 70% of its employees are minorities and women. She said the company settled because the insurance company providing legal assistance told HealthHelp officials the lawsuit was getting expensive to defend.