Former Vanderbilt employee ‘shocked’ by firing

Former Vanderbilt employee 'shocked' by firing (Image 1)

Roger Sparks says he had no idea that when he went into work the Monday after the Fourth of July holiday that he would be fired from his job in the animal research section of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“They just handed me a letter saying you have been terminated,” said the 52-year old, who indicated he had been with Vanderbilt on a full-time basis since 1995.  “They said it has to do with the budgetary [and] work performance, [but] it was just a form letter that everyone else got.”

Sparks said he had not gotten any prior notices indicating poor work performance.

“I was just in shock, I said, ‘What did I do wrong?'” he recalled, adding, “I believe it has to do with my age.”

Sparks spoke with Nashville's News 2 Wednesday from the law offices of two prominent Nashville attorneys who are looking into the recent layoffs that some say could reach as many as 1,000 workers.

Sparks said he called the lawyers “because I thought my rights were violated, and I was not given [any] warning, something to do with my age, and how much I was making.”

George Barrett says he's “been deluged” with phone calls from former Vanderbilt University Medical Center workers “since word of his news conference Wednesday morning was announced late Tuesday afternoon. I have done nothing this morning, but talk to those workers.”

He said his office has spoken with about a dozen former Vanderbilt Medical Center workers.

He and former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, who specialized in prosecuting health care cases, say they are “looking into disparities” concerning the layoffs “based on age, race and if the employee recently took leave with the Family Medical Leave Act.”

Martin said “we are looking the accounting practices that may have prompted mass termination.”

He believes Vanderbilt may not have been fully transparent when it ceased allowing hourly workers to accrue vacation time last spring.

“One of the things we are looking at very closely is this idea that Vanderbilt took away the ability for employees to accrue vacation time up until July 1st and then on July 1st announced a number of terminations and said there would be more to come,” added the former U.S. Attorney.

Barrett said he “believes they will find evidence that would warrant” some kind of legal action against Vanderbilt.

The former U.S. Attorney is a bit more cautious about what ultimately could be a class action lawsuit against Vanderbilt.

“I don't want to speculate, but we have talked to enough employees to give us reason to keep digging,” added Martin.

Another Vanderbilt worker, Jackie Lucas, who is not in the medical facility, told Nashville's News 2 that she knows a lot of people in the medical center “who are on eggshells, wondering what is going to happen next.”

VUMC has not commented yet on the workers' allegations or the potential legal action from the Nashville attorneys.

In a statement issued earlier this month, John Howser, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Medical Center News and Communications, said, “Our longstanding policy is not to comment on personnel matters involving individual employees. We are an institution constantly in pursuit of excellence aggressively meeting the challenges currently facing not only Vanderbilt but the nation's entire health care industry. We are committed to the very highest level of care for our patients, which includes addressing workplace performance as necessary.”

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