Racial discrimination alleged at Portland quadriplegic center
A former attendant at a Portland nonprofit that cares for those living with disabilities alleges she was fired due to racial discrimination, whistleblower retaliation — and for asking for time off to recuperate from surgery, according to a new lawsuit.
Lawyers for Marie Gertrude Jean Valmont are seeking at least a quarter million dollars in damages from Quadriplegics United Against Dependency, a local nonprofit in Portland known as QUAD Inc.
The suit says Valmont was a hard worker "beloved" by residents at QUAD's Burnside Station center, 10610 E. Burnside St., earning her a promotion last August to shift lead and a one-dollar raise to $14.25 per hour.
The trouble started soon after, per the litigation, when "Blayke Hopkins, a white woman" was hired as Valmont's supervisor. Valmont is a Black woman of Haitian descent who speaks English with an accent, per the suit.
Valmont asked Hopkins for 12 weeks of time off in October, but was allegedly told she didn't qualify for short-term disability insurance and therefore would not be paid for that time. The suit claims Valmont had worked at the center for more than six months and did qualify under the Oregon Family Leave Act.
On Oct. 18, Valmont raised concerns about a coworker who allegedly left their post and "refused to change the sheets of a resident that were wet with urine," the suit says. The next day, two coworkers threatened to beat up Valmont and told her to "go back to Jamaica or wherever you come from," the suit alleges.
The litigation says Valmont was disciplined over the incident and scolded by Hopkins for being "aggressive" and "not speaking English" properly, but the other workers received no punishment. Valmont was sent home that day.
On Oct. 20, Valmont took her concerns to HR worker Alena Guggemos, but the only thing to come of it was Hopkins presented Valmont with a backdated final written warning, according to the suit. Lawyers for Valmont say she had never been disciplined before. She was fired Oct. 26, the day before her scheduled surgery, the suit says.
The 11-page lawsuit seeks $10,000 per month for lost wages, plus $250,000 for emotional pain and suffering. It adds that Valmont had a disability herself and her termination represents a failure to accommodate it.
QUAD Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.
The nonprofit operates five buildings serving 125 low-income residents in Portland, according to GuideStar. Lawyers Maya Rinta and J. Ashlee Albies are representing Valmont in the suit filed March 2 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
"Ms. Valmont faces additional challenges of racism and sexism in the workplace, and was doing everything right," Rinta said. "Now she's seeking accountability."
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