Advocate Christ Medical Center workers allege racial discrimination

August 7, 2013 (OAK LAWN, Ill.)

One employee and a former hospital worker claim they were targets of racism.

The plaintiffs say they had to endure, and got fired for speaking out about illegal conduct by people in power, a crisis that has Advocate Christ Medical Center reacting Wednesday night like many institutions in such circumstances: they are saying very little.

But the man who claims he put up with the n-word and more for five years has been joined by a white colleague in saying "enough."

Documents filed in federal court paint a picture of a poisoned workspace ruled by supervisors who demeaned 46-year-old Maurice Walker through racial taunts, stymied job promotion, and forcing him to wear official hospital ID badges with the image of Jimmie Walker.

"It is horrible," said Christopher Smith, plaintiff's lawyer. "The only kind of situation where someone would put up with it is if their job was on the line every day and they were fearing it."

Walker continues to work and is believed to be on the second shift Wednesday. The lawsuit says he was also the victim of unauthorized background checks by his supervisor, Lieutenant Richard Kuchyt, who allegedly used his part-time position with the Chicago Ridge Police Department to illegally access information on Walker and other black employees. Walker has no criminal record.

"Nothing has lit a fire to stop this, instead the person who is speaking up is the one who loses his job who had a previously untarnished record," said Smith.

That person is 54-year-old Walter Bergstrom, a sergeant in the hospital's force under Lt. Kuchyt until last May.

"It made me mad, I see the abuse he took every day," said Bergstrom, co-plaintiff.

As a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, he says he was fired for blowing the whistle on the racism that was condoned by senior hospital staff.

"I brought to them how the lieutenant was calling him [expletive], how the lieutenant wouldn't let them go out and do outside patrol," said Bergstrom. "I was let go."

Bergstrom says there were also threats that walker would be "taken care of" not only by Lt. Kuchyt but his superiors, Deputy Chief Dan Lempra, Managing Chief Ray Somoska and Director Kathy Stahl, all of whom are named as defendants.

"It is just a ruthless, it is like a dictatorship there. If you don't march to their tune and if you speak up against something that is wrong they are going to retaliate and they are going to take your job away," said Bergstrom.

Christ Medical Center officials did not return calls seeking comment but released a statement: "We take this claim very seriously. The behavior described does not align with our missions, values and philosophy as a faith-based healing ministry."

On Wednesday afternoon, a source has told ABC7 that at least one of the supervisors, Assistant Chief Dan Lempa, will be leaving the hospital security force as of the 23rd of this month to take a new position in Evergreen Park.

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