On Wednesday, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Black women who were fired because of their race after months of racially charged comments by their boss and his wife. Small employers need to know that they can’t fire employees because of their identities.

According to our complaint, Titilayo “Titi” Shiyanbade and Tyesha Brooks were employees of Executive Health Group, a private medical practice in Richmond owned by Dr. J. Rand Baggesen. Over the course of their employment, they endured repeated racially charged comments from Dr. Baggesen and his wife. These comments isolated and humiliated Titi and Tyesha because of their race. On one occasion, Dr. Baggesen repeated a patient’s racial slur in reference to Titi and Tyesha. These comments were so egregious that they told Dr. Baggesen to stop because he was making them uncomfortable.

In late June, Dr. Baggesen fired Titi and Tyesha and replaced them with white employees the following day. They were each told they were being fired due to a “culture change” in the office. Based on the months of racially charged comments, Dr. Baggesen’s refusal to explain what “culture change” meant, and their immediate replacement with white employees, Titi and Tyesha were left to understand that “culture change” meant a shift from Black employees to white employees.

We partnered with private employment attorney Craig Curwood of Curwood Law Firm to sue on Titi and Tyesha’s behalf. We brought a state law claim under the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alongside federal claims for unpaid overtime wages and race-based discrimination.

Under the VHRA, it’s illegal for a small employer with six to 14 employees to fire an employee because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition. It’s illegal for employers with six to 19 employees to fire someone because of their age.

To our knowledge, no one has ever brought a case under this law because there is a cap significantly limiting the ability of employees to recover damages. There are also other limits to the VHRA. For example, it only protects people fired on the basis of their identity, but not people facing other types of on-the-job discrimination like harassment, poor assignments or responsibilities, failure to promote, or inadequate training. Many Virginians don’t know the law even exists, or can’t find an attorney to bring their case.

We’re bringing this suit to right the wrong that was done to Titi and Tyesha, and to bring attention to this underused law. There are more than 120,000 employers with fewer than 20 employees in Virginia. They employ almost 17 percent of the Commonwealth’s workforce. We can’t let these employers get away with discrimination, just because they only employ a handful of people.

Everyone deserves job security and protection from discrimination. If you’ve been fired from a small employer in the past nine months due to your gender or sex, please fill out our intake form here.

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