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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Five fired black workers sue PharMerica

African immigrants charge they were mistreated and harassed by bosses and co-workers.

By TREVOR MAXWELL, Staff Writer

April 24, 2009

PORTLAND — Five men have filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against PharMerica, one of the nation's largest pharmacy services corporations.

Four of the plaintiffs are originally from Somalia, and the other is from Ethiopia. According to the suit filed Wednesday at U.S. District Court, the men were hired in early 2007 as pharmacy technicians at PharMerica's facility in Portland.

The men claim that over the next six months, they suffered persistent harassment and discrimination by white co-workers and supervisors, creating a segregated workplace where their rights were routinely ignored.

After reporting their concerns about the alleged hostile environment, the men claim to have been subjected to retaliation by PharMerica managers. The plaintiffs say that on July 30, 2007, they were all fired.

"The big picture is they felt completely like they were marked as second-class citizens. It was degrading, dehumanizing, and it really scarred them," said the lawyer for the plaintiffs, David Webbert, who specializes in workplace discrimination cases.

Abdifatah Haji, Said Ali, Abdurazak Isaac, Muse Keyse and Nuur Mohamed seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages based on PharMerica's alleged violations of the federal Civil Rights Act, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Maine Whistleblowers' Protection Act.

The plaintiffs also seek an order from a federal judge that would require PharMerica to provide training and other steps to reduce the likelihood of discrimination and retaliation within the company.

"We really need to stamp this out," Webbert said.

Two of the plaintiffs have moved out of the state, but the three others still live in the Portland area. Webbert said all of them have legal residence in the U.S.

Calls to PharMerica's corporate headquarters in Louisville, Ky., were not returned Thursday. John Gleason, a Portland lawyer listed on court documents as the company's local attorney, also could not be reached for comment. The company has until May 4 to file a formal response to the complaint at U.S. District Court in Portland.

CLAIMS OF UNFAIR TREATMENT

According to the company's Web site, PharMerica operates more than 120 institutional pharmacies nationwide. Those pharmacies coordinate, package and distribute medications to long-term care facilities.

Haji, Ali, Isaac, Keyse and Mohamed were hired in early 2007 at PharMerica's facility on McAlister Farm Road. The company was then known as Kindred Pharmacy Services, prior to a merger and name change.

As pharmacy technicians, the men were responsible for filling prescriptions before they were sent out to nursing homes. In the complaint, Webbert said no other black people were working as pharmacy technicians there at the time the plaintiffs were hired.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs' direct supervisor allowed other technicians to rotate shifts, but restricted the black workers to the closing shift. That shift was supposed to end at 7:30 p.m., but often ran until 10 p.m. because all of the prescriptions had to be filled.

The supervisor allegedly told the plaintiffs they were not allowed breaks after 4:30 p.m., which the plaintiffs later learned was a violation of labor laws. The men said the supervisor told them, "This isn't a mosque," and would not allow them to pray during breaks.

The supervisor and other employees allegedly insulted the plaintiffs and repeatedly used slurs.

"They were called (the n-word), lazy, black sheep, barbarians, filthy, irresponsible, dumb, dirty, little boys and stupid," Webbert wrote in the complaint.

Two white female co-workers, Webbert wrote, told the supervisor they did not want to work closing shift because "they were afraid the plaintiffs would 'jump' them and 'rape' them in the parking lot."

Two other white female co-workers felt the men were being harassed,...

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