Lawsuit alleges bias at hospital

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By David Giuliani

An employee of Alta Vista Regional Hospital has sued his employer over what he calls a pattern of bias against northern New Mexican Hispanics.

Carlos Coca, who has held a number of supervisory positions at the hospital over the years, filed the lawsuit earlier this month in state District Court.

His attorney, Dennis Montoya of Albuquerque, states in the lawsuit that Coca has been a target of discrimination in the years since Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Corp. bought the formerly nonprofit hospital in 2000.

“Carlos Coca enjoyed a reputation of hard work, good relations with supervisors, fairness with subordinates and outstanding supervisory qualities,” the lawsuit states.

But things took a turn for the worse when CHS became the new owner, according to the lawsuit.

“Native northern New Mexico Hispanics were systematically displaced from jobs, downgraded, overlooked for promotions and undervalued by the new corporate managers,” the lawsuit states, adding that the company “demonstrated little consideration of the social and cultural environment of northern New Mexico.”

Many of the new managers were Anglo and from CHS’ corporate offices in Tennessee, according to the lawsuit.

One Anglo supervisor in particular had much contempt for Coca and other Hispanic employees, the lawsuit contends.

“Because (the supervisor) is married to a woman of Hispanic origin, (he) considers himself immune to any charge of discriminatory attitude or behavior,” the lawsuit states.

When Coca resisted the supervisor’s discriminatory treatment, the supervisor made it much worse for Coca, according to the lawsuit.

Coca worked as the interim director of environmental services, but was replaced with an Anglo from Big Spring, Texas, with whom he got along, the lawsuit states.

Around this time, Coca was accused of assaulting two employees by dragging them down a hospital hallway, the lawsuit states.

But Coca’s attorney, Montoya, notes that no report was filed, even though the allegations involved criminal acts. Coca wasn’t placed on administrative leave or disciplined for the supposed assault, even though it allegedly violated Alta Vista’s policy of zero tolerance for violence, the lawsuit states.

“As the discrimination complaints increased, so did the allegations against (Coca),” the lawsuit contends.

Meanwhile, one Anglo supervisor vouched for Coca, saying he was a hard worker who got along with his colleagues and subordinates, the lawsuit states. Another employee said Coca was discriminated against because he was Hispanic, according to the lawsuit.

Coca is seeking compensation for retaliation and discrimination.

In an interview Thursday, attorney Montoya said discrimination is a big problem at Alta Vista, contending that managers act “highhanded and insensitive in a racist kind of way.”

“The problem in Las Vegas is that this corporation has no cultural sensitivity to the unique circumstances of northern New Mexico,” he said. “That is evident in how they have treated the workforce. It looks like there has been a systematic diminishing of the native Hispanic presence in the workforce’s better-paying jobs and a systematic introduction of primary non-Hispanic managers.”

He said he knows about other employees who have similar grievances. “I wouldn’t rule out the likelihood of other cases in the near future,” Montoya said.

Mathew Martinez, Alta Vista’s spokesman, said the state Human Rights Division has already issued a determination that Coca hadn’t established discriminatory treatment and that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed with that ruling.

“We look forward to the court confirming the New Mexico and federal commissions’ conclusions that we acted properly,” he said.