A former employee is suing the Duke University Health System, alleging he was fired in retaliation for reporting his supervisor’s “discriminatory employment practices,” according to a lawsuit filed May 5.
Matthew Freetage is suing Duke in U.S. District Court in North Carolina on counts of retaliation and wrongful discharge.
Freetage's complaint states that he was hired as an Operations Manager for the Environmental Services Department at the Duke Regional Hospital on Sept. 14, 2020. In his first meeting with his supervisor, Freetage was asked “whether he had a problem supervising ‘blacks’” and was told to “start writing up ‘those people’ in order to’ keep them in line.”
Later that September, Freetage said he “overheard a conversation regarding management’s instructions to ‘clean house’ in his department, specifically discussing their intent to fire ‘colored’ workers who they felt were ‘lazy.’”
When Freetage mentioned the Health System’s diversity training and asked if it would be applicable in this situation, an administrative assistant “laughed” and responded, “Yeah that’s all bull****. We don’t actually do that around here. It’s all for show,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit states that Freetage reported this conversation to the Health System’s Human Resources Department. He was told that his concerns were a “priority,” but no disciplinary action was taken against the employees involved in the conversation, according to the complaint.
In December 2020, Freetage submitted a letter to the Health System’s Hearing Committee after a Black colleague was fired. In it, he alleged that the employee had been fired because of “the severe mistreatment, discrimination and harassment from the management staff,” the complaint states. He also reported that his manager had told him to write up “blacks.” Again, no disciplinary action was taken in response.
The complaint states that Freetage’s supervisor instead made “false reports” regarding his work performance in his 120-day performance review.
On Jan. 11, 2021, Freetage was fired by that same supervisor, according to the lawsuit.
A summons was issued to the Duke University Health System on May 6, according to court records.
The Chronicle reached out to Sarah Avery, director of the Duke Health News Office, who responded that they had “no comment on active litigation.”
Avery provided The Chronicle with a statement from Katie Galbraith, president of Duke Regional Hospital, on Saturday afternoon.
"While we can’t comment on active litigation, we thoroughly investigate allegations of discrimination and take appropriate action when we identify violations of our policies and core values. We have zero tolerance for retaliation against anyone who reports such allegations," Galbraith wrote.
Editor's Note: This story was updated Saturday afternoon to include a comment from Katie Galbraith, president of Duke Regional Hospital.
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Milla Surjadi is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 118th volume.