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Judge allows workplace discrimination case against D-H to proceed

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    "I love that hospital, the people I worked with and the people I have served," said the Rev. John Nwagbaraocha, of Enfield, who was a chaplain at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center before being fired in November 2017. "Some of them still call me from time to time with their problems. I am still their priest. I still do what I have to do." Nwagbaraocha is contesting his termination. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2019 9:52:13 PM
Modified: 11/11/2019 9:52:08 PM

CONCORD — The judge in a federal lawsuit brought by a former Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center chaplain alleging discrimination by D-H and by his former supervisor is allowing the case to proceed on most counts.

The Rev. John Nwagbaraocha, a 65-year-old Catholic priest originally from Nigeria, first filed his suit in April 2018, alleging that the Lebanon hospital wrongfully terminated him in part because of his “accented speech and Nigerian manner of communicating.”

In her Oct. 28 order, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Landya McCafferty dismissed two claims against D-H, but found that “there is sufficient evidence in the record” to support Nwagbaraocha’s allegations on eight counts relating to D-H’s discrimination against him based on his national origin, race, religion and age. The two claims that were dismissed related to claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In addition, McCafferty allowed four counts against the Rev. Frank Macht, the director of D-H’s Chaplaincy Department who is also named in the suit, to proceed. Those counts include allegations that Macht discriminated against Nwagbaraocha, an Enfield resident who worked at DHMC from 2014 to 2017, based on his national origin, race, religion and age in violation of a New Hampshire statute relating to equal employment opportunity.

McCafferty dismissed four other counts against Macht because individuals may not be held liable under Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or ADEA, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, she wrote in the Oct. 28 order.

D-H spokeswoman Audra Burns declined to comment on the judge’s order in an email on Monday, but D-H has disputed Nwagbaraocha’s claims in court filings, denying terminating Nwagbaraocha for any reason other than his job performance. D-H said in filings that Nwagbaraocha didn’t speak clearly and violated personal boundaries by encouraging hugging.

Nwagbaraocha’s attorney Geoffrey Vitt, of Norwich, in an email pointed to a transcript of an Oct. 25 hearing on D-H’s motion for summary judgment and said, “The judge had numerous comments about the weaknesses and problems with Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s case.”

For example, according to the transcript, McCafferty noted that there is evidence indicating that Macht “targeted” Nwagbaraocha, and also of Macht requiring a large volume of on-call hours for the two Catholic priests and that he treated them, both men of color born in other countries, as “second-class citizens.”

McCafferty said in the transcript that the parties in the case have “a genuine dispute about whether (Nwagbaraocha) was performing adequately.”

A primary piece of evidence to this effect, McCafferty said, is “once Macht became the director, Father John immediately saw a decline in his performance reviews.”

And, she said, several of Nwagbaraocha’s colleagues disagreed with Macht’s assessment of his performance.

“They have attested that they thought Father John was an excellent and skilled chaplain, and that criticisms and complaints against him were taken out of context by Macht and highlighted in a way that did not represent his overall abilities,” the judge said, according to the transcript.

Nwagbaraocha is seeking to cover the cost of damages, legal fees and other relief, according to his initial complaint.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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