Attorneys: Reason to think VUMC execs ‘not fully transparent’ on layoffs

Barrett, ex-U.S. attorney looking into vacation suspensions, criteria used for cuts

A team of prominent local attorneys are looking into the criteria Vanderbilt University Medical Center leaders used to select employees affected by recent mass terminations.

Former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin and Nashville attorney George Barrett are conducting an investigation after 300 Vanderbilt employees were terminated earlier this month and hundreds more are expected to be so. On Wednesday morning, the attorneys said they will pay particular attention to race, age and use of family medical leave among those recently fired.

VUMC executives have cited a tightening budget and an industry downturn as justifications for the cuts, which have totaled more than 300. But the attorneys are investigating what they call discrepancies in the layoffs based on federal and state laws protecting employees and have suggested that a class-action lawsuit could be possible.

Martin said that since April, Vanderbilt no longer allowed hourly employees to accrue vacation time, a significant liability, up until the termination announcement.

“We have reason to believe that the announcement and the reasons given to the employees back in the spring about the inability to accrue vacation time was not fully transparent, nor was Vanderbilt fully forthcoming about how it found itself in that situation,” Martin said.

In a recent memo to employees, VUMC Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Jeff Balser wrote that the health care bubble has popped and that there can be no question that VUMC will have to reduce its employee count.

At the press conference Wednesday, 52-year-old Roger Sparks, who was let go from his job as a lab animal tech as part of the terminations, said he had lost respect for the management of the medical center. Sparks has worked for Vanderbilt since 1995.

“I have been a constant critic of the manner in which [Vanderbilt] treats their hourly employees,” Barrett said. “Vanderbilt has some of the highest paid administrators in the country, and the place they start to save money is not those high-paid administrators, but with those on the bottom.”

Vanderbilt is not commenting on the investigation, according to Craig Boerner, VUMC national news director.