Woman claims racial discrimination in suit against HOME

By Kelly Holleran | May 9, 2011

An African American woman has filed suit against her former employer, alleging she suffered numerous incidents of racial discrimination before she was terminated from her job.

Dena Bethea claims she worked as a program manager for defendant Project H.O.M.E. from 2006 until her termination on May 14, 2010. During her tenure at the company, Bethea was treated differently than her Caucasian co-workers, according to her complaint, which was removed to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 3.

The suit states that problems began after Karen Escovitz, who had a history of troubled relationships with minority employees, became Bethea’s immediate supervisor in 2008.

“Escovitz was dismissive and demeaning to Plaintiff in front of colleagues and in private,” the complaint says. “Escovitz told Plaintiff it was Plaintiff’s job to ‘make me look good’ and would rudely place her hand in front of Plaintiff’s face when Plaintiff endeavored to speak to Escovitz.”

Bethea, feeling degraded, approached Project H.O.M.E.’s human resources about her concerns. Human resources recommended Bethea talk to Escovitz’s supervisor about the issues.

Following a meeting with Escovitz’s supervisor, Bethea received a letter clarifying her job duties, which she claims were constantly changing under Escovitz’s direction. Bethea, however, did not realize the letter constituted a verbal warning, according to the complaint.

On March 22, Bethea received a written warning, which she immediately contested, saying she had never received a prior verbal warning – a mandatory step before a written warning according to Project H.O.M.E.’s policies, the suit states. Only then did Bethea discover that her job description letter was a verbal warning, the complaint says.

After the written warning, Bethea was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, which laid out expectations for Bethea at 30, 60 and 90 days. On May 14, Project H.O.M.E. terminated Bethea for her failure to meet the PIP expectations, according to the complaint.

However, Bethea maintains that she met the expectations of the PIP and should not have been terminated.

In her complaint, Bethea also alleges that she was treated differently than her non-minority co-workers.

“On information and belief, non-minority employees who complain about their supervisors are transferred to other supervisors and do not suffer retaliation by Defendant,” the suit states. “On information and belief, non-minority case managers have less responsibility than Plaintiff had as a program manager. On information and belief, non-minority case managers were paid at a higher rate than minority case managers, including Plaintiff.”

Because of her termination, Bethea claims she lost wages, benefits and employment opportunities and suffered damage to her career trajectory. In addition, she suffered emotional and physical distress, according to the complaint.

In her six-count complaint, Bethea is seeking a court order to reinstate her to her former position, an order to compensate her for benefits and pay she lost due to discrimination and a permanent injunction banning Project H.O.M.E. from discriminating against her. In addition, she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other relief the court deems just.

She will be represented by Nancy C. DeMis of Gallagher, Schoenfield, Surkin, Chupein and DeMis in Media.

Project H.O.M.E. will be represented by Carla P. Maresca and Rufus A. Jennings of Deasey, Mahoney, Valentini and North in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court case number: 2:11-cv-2954.

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