A help-wanted advertisement for female nurses, placed in a free suburban newspaper, had a startling specification: No Haitians need apply.
The typo-ridden ad was placed by Interim Healthcare Inc. on Oct. 15 in the Rockland Pennysaver. It straightforwardly stated that a client in West Haverstraw, New York, was looking for a “laid back nurse, no haitians, must have strong respiratory mngt.”
Within 24 hours, news of the advertisement went viral on social media and sent shockwaves through Rockland’s large Haitian community and beyond.
“What type of corporate culture would make it possible for an employee to even write down something like that, never mind allowing it to leave the facility?” said Berthilde Dufrene, a founder and board adviser for the Haitian American Nurses Association in Rockland County.
How can this happen in the year 2015? Was this error in judgment a one-time fluke or evidence of a systemic problem within the company? And why wasn’t the advertisement flagged at the Pennysaver before publication?
Answers to these questions remain murky but response from the Haitian community, public officials, and New York’s Attorney General’s Office was swift. Both the health-care company and the Pennysaver issued public apologies. The advertisement was yanked.
Democratic State Senator David Carlucci said the ad represented a “blatant form of employment discrimination” and called on the New York State Department of Labor and the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to investigate.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into the incident, saying, “the advertisement violates federal and state civil-rights laws that prohibit discrimination in hiring on the basis of national origin.”
His office is also investigating whether any complaints of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation have been leveled by Interim Healthcare employees or independent contractors nationally.
The health care company has vowed to probe the misstep.
Katherine McNally, a nurse and president of Interim Healthcare, acknowledged the ad was “unacceptable and offensive” and has asked for forgiveness, particularly from the Haitian community. She posted the apology on the company’s Facebook page.
Rockland County, located 30 miles north of New York City, has the second largest concentration of Haitians in the United States, behind Brooklyn. Renold Julien, head of the Spring Valley community group Konbit Neg Lakay, said the advertisement raises concerns as to whether the health-care company is reluctant to hire Haitian nurses.
However, Spring Valley Mayor Demeza Delhomme, the county’s only elected Haitian mayor, has been more forgiving, emphasizing the company has made a mistake and has apologized for it. He says it’s time to move on.
The Pennysaver Group said the ad was published by mistake and without “proper editing protocol,” and it was removed. The company’s chairman, Sidney Sutter, and Chief Operating Officer Stacie Goldberg, posted on the company’s Facebook page “We deeply apologize to our readers and the Haitian Community.”
Interim Healthcare, the nation’s oldest health-care franchise company, is a Sunrise, Florida-based home care, hospice, and medical staffing company that has more than 300 franchises employing more than 40,000 health-care workers, according to the company’s website. The advertisement was placed by its Nanuet franchise.
The company has said it has “terminated the two employees involved in this action, including the senior HR director who was responsible for the oversight.” It is also implementing sensitivity training.
The New York Attorney General’s office has requested specific information on the staff responsible for hiring and for creating advertisements, and it wants documents detailing what remedial steps the franchise has taken.
McNally has said the company has hired an independent third party to conduct a comprehensive review of what occurred.
“All policies and procedures will be reviewed to assure that this will never happen again,” she said. In the meantime, the company has hired a recruiting manager who will provide oversight on recruiting and help-wanted advertisements.
Leaders of the Haitian community, lawmakers, and Interim have begun a series of meetings to quell tensions. The Haitian leaders have made a handful of demands. They want Interim to share the findings of the independent study. They also want to know how many Haitian nurses work at the Nanuet franchise; what are their positions; are any in management; and whether there have been any complaints.
“We are just beginning a series of discussions,” said Judeline Tamar Constant-Rouzard, an attorney and partner with Rouzard & Rouzard of New City. “We are hoping everyone can learn from this mistake.”
Rouzard, the legal leader of the coalition of the Haitian community leaders, is also asking Interim to set up a perpetual scholarship for Haitian nurses at Rockland County College, Dominican College, and Nyack College.
The anti-Haitian advertisement recalls earlier times of discrimination, such as the 19th-century “no Irish need apply” ads that were published in newspapers and posted on the business’s front doors. Other immigrant groups such as the Poles in the early 1900s and more recently, Mexicans, have also faced discrimination.
The Haitian community in Florida also bristled over the advertisement. Nadege Green, a WLRN reporter, told Public Radio International the advertisement opened up old wounds, harkening to a time in the 1980s when people tagged groups at risk for HIV infection as the four Hs: “hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, homosexuals, and Haitians.”
Green said Haitian Americans have made great strides, particularly in the nursing fields. “This was a somber reminder that this type of discrimination still exists,” she said.