JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville nursing home facility is facing a $10 million federal lawsuit after a former employee who is openly gay says he was repeatedly harassed by three employees and forced to resign after he filed complaints with upper management.
“It felt like hell. It felt very uncomfortable,” said Daniel Vernon. “Every day, I came into work. I was not happy.”
Vernon, a certified nursing assistant, said the harassment happened at the Life Care Center of Jacksonville facility in the Baymeadows area.
“I’ve been with the company for 11 years, and at other locations, I was treated like family. But when I came to Jacksonville, it was different,” Vernon said.
Vernon said he repeatedly endured verbal harassment from three female coworkers.
“Slurs and words would make me very uncomfortable,” Vernon said. “I would report it, but nothing was done about it.”
Vernon and J. Eric Jones, his attorney, say reporting the acts of sexual orientation harassment led to retaliation by a nursing home manager who, according to a federal lawsuit against the nursing home, forced Vernon to resign and then threatened to call police on him when a patient came over to Vernon and asked him if he was okay.
“I was like, why you would call police? I’m not doing any harm. I was just talking to a patient. And he just kept saying, ‘You need to get out. Just go. Hurry up and leave. I’m calling the police.’”
Jones says his client’s statements have been validated by coworkers who were aware of what Vernon was going through.
“Witnesses and text messages have said he was experiencing a horrible, harassing and intolerable work environment,” Jones said.
The attorney feels his client’s case will be heard in front of a federal jury, pointing to a Supreme Court ruling from last year that found it was illegal to discriminate or retaliate against a person because of their LGBTQ status.
Frieda Saraga is the founder of the Jacksonville chapter of the PFLAG -- an organization of members of the LGBTQ community and their parents, families and allies. Saraga reviewed Vernon’s case and wanted to send a message to people who think it’s OK to demean and criticize people who are gay.
“All people are equal. All people are the same. We were all born the same. It’s not a choice. It’s just who they are,” Saraga said.
Life Care Centers of America released a statement that reads: ”We have recently been made aware of a lawsuit filed against our facility by a former associate. Due to the pending legal action, we cannot provide specific information on this matter.”
Vernon is now employed at another healthcare facility where he says he loves the environment and that both his coworkers and management have been very respectful.