Steward Health Care, CEO named in discrimination lawsuit by former exec

A former Boston-based Steward Health Care leader filed a lawsuit against the health system, Founder, Chairman and CEO Ralph de la Torre, MD, and the institution's general counsel May 14, alleging she was subjected to sexual and racial harassment during her time at the organization, according to The Boston Globe.

Here are five things to know about the lawsuit.

1. Claudia Henderson, Steward's former senior vice president of human resources, alleged the harassment began in 2012, two years after she arrived at the health system. At the time, Ms. Henderson was tasked to work with the company's head of the hospitals division, Joshua Putter, who repeatedly made sexual and racial comments toward her, according to court documents obtained by The Boston Globe.

2. Ms. Henderson, who declined to comment to the publication about the lawsuit, resigned from Steward in March 2013, but returned to the organization in fall 2016 as Steward's senior vice president of human resources. Ms. Henderson said in the lawsuit her supervisors tasked her with integrating the human resources departments of the eight hospitals transitioning to Steward from Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems.

3. In March 2017, Ms. Henderson learned Steward had rehired Mr. Putter, who had left the institution for unrelated reasons. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Henderson expressed her concern about Mr. Putter to a Steward executive. Soon after, Ms. Henderson claimed leadership at the company retaliated against her by demoting her and hiring a white man to take over her former position. She said executive management proceeded to ask her to resign in January, the lawsuit states.

4. In court documents, Ms. Henderson claimed that upon her return, she realized Steward's work culture "remain[ed] one in which the management team, consisting predominantly of white men, has little tolerance or respect for persons outside of that group, and abundant tolerance for sexual and racial harassment and discrimination," The Boston Globe reports. She alleged other executives also made sexist and racist remarks, citing one example in which an executive vice president called Ms. Henderson his "favorite black person," according to the report. The organization's chief marketing officer also regularly made inappropriate remarks toward female employees, Ms. Henderson alleged.

5. Lawyers for Steward Health Care disputed Ms. Henderson's claims to The Boston Globe, stating "the allegations are completely unfounded."

"The indisputable facts are that Ms. Henderson left of her own accord in 2013 and Steward rehired her in 2016 to an even higher-level position than she had resigned from. Her departure in 2017 resulted from a series of mergers by Steward which included the addition of a number of senior HR professionals in much larger geographies," an attorney for the health system told the publication in an emailed statement.

"We believe the allegations are completely unfounded, and we look forward to our day in court," the attorney continued. "The insinuations of racial bias against Dr. Ralph de la Torre, a minority executive of Latin American descent, are preposterous as are the insinuations against the chief marketing officer."

To access The Boston Globe report, click here.

Editor's note: Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Steward Health Care for comment and will update the report as more information becomes available.

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