Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 22:48:30 -0400
In its latest effort to resolve at least a year’s worth of disputes with its lowest-paid employees, the University has hired a consulting firm to examine a culture within housekeeping that has elicited multiple complaints from housekeepers.
The University hired the PRM Consulting Group in March to identify problems within the housekeeping culture, according to a memorandum from Chancellor Holden Thorp to housekeeping employees.
In April, dozens of University employees, many of whom were housekeepers, staged a sit-out in protest of a scheduling change workers said represented management’s lack of concern for workers’ rights.
In the fall, housekeepers protested the “sit-down policy” they claimed was evidence of a discriminatory work environment.
But the consulting firm will also examine an issue that hasn’t been formally protested this year — sexual harassment.
Ann Penn, an Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act officer, said she has received multiple complaints of sexual harassment and race discrimination from employees.
The report will cover a wide array of issues, including the no sit-down policy and sexual harassment, said Van Dobson, chief facilities officer and executive director for Facilities Services.
Meanwhile, housekeeper Amanda Hulon is formally appealing a University ruling on a complaint she filed against her supervisor. In the complaint, Hulon claims that her supervisor sexually harassed her.
The director of housekeeping services, Bill Burston, did not respond to several calls and in-person requests for interviews.
Burston has been temporarily reassigned to special duties at Lenoir Dining Hall, Dobson said. The move has caused confusion within Burston’s department.
Claims of harassment
In her petition for a contested case hearing, Hulon said her supervisor used her employment as leverage for abuse.
According to the petition, which was filed on April 20, Hulon’s supervisor offered Hulon a $150 loan in 2008, which she eventually accepted.
In exchange for the money, her supervisor expected sexual favors from Hulon, the petition states.
Her supervisor said he has been cleared of the claims of sexual harassment by the University.
Hulon’s supervisor said he was only guilty of loaning money to a subordinate, which earned him a year-long written warning.
The case is scheduled to be heard before an administrative law judge on Aug. 29 under the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, said Al McSurely, Hulon’s attorney.
According to the petition, Hulon filed a case with the University Ombuds Office.
Hulon was not advised of the full procedures for a complaint but was referred to the Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act Office, the petition states.
Wayne Blair, University ombudsman, would not comment on specific cases.
George James, a housekeeper, said he used to be unfamiliar with proper protocol for filing complaints.
“I didn’t know my rights,” said James, who said he witnessed a specific instance of racial harassment. “I didn’t have a handbook.”
Hulon and McSurely said the makeup of the housekeeping department plays a role in the lack of understanding of the policy.
“The University has been hiring extensively females who come from oppressed and not necessarily English-speaking nationalities,” McSurely said.
Kathy Bryant, senior director of human resources communications for the University, wrote in an email that if a housekeeper’s concern cannot be addressed by a supervisor or manager, the issue can be reported to the Office of Human Resources.
Brenda Malone, vice chancellor for human resources, said an increase in layoffs has caused an increase in the number of general grievances.
The consulting group will confidentially interview all housekeeping employees and some administrators, Dobson said.
He added that the consulting group will have a report for senior administrators by July or August.
Senior Writer C. Ryan Barber contributed reporting.
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