More than 200 people have signed a petition that accuses the main hospital trust in Brighton and Hove of discriminating against black and minority ethnic (BME) staff.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) denied the claims and said that it supported the BME Network and applied policies and procedures fairly to all employees.
The dispute is heading to the High Court next week after the trust – which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital – was granted a temporary injunction. A judge is expected to decide whether to lift or extend the injunction.
It said: “Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) NHS Trust targets black and minority ethnic (BME) staff for exposing institutional racism, fraud, patient safety concerns and perjury.
“Under the current executive management and trust board of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH), black and minority ethnic (BME) people are being subjected to unprecedented levels of racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
The trust said: “We strongly refute these claims.
“The trust board and leadership team commits substantial resources to positive and proactive race equality initiatives, including significant support to the BME Network itself.
“We are also confident that policies relating to discrimination issues are fairly applied.
“There are many recent examples where we have taken serious disciplinary action in cases where race discrimination has been identified and we will continue to do so.
“We must, however, be equally able to investigate and take the appropriate action in cases where misconduct or discrimination is alleged against BME staff using the same policies and processes as apply to all employees.”
The supporting information published on the Change.org petition page cited a report by the official hospitals watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The CQC said in its report in April last year: “During the period leading up to our visit we had been made aware of concerns regarding bullying and harassment and racism within the trust.
“The concerns centred on the relationships within and between different departments and groups of staff.
“One theme of concern pertained to black and minority ethnic staff (BME). Staff from across the trust told us of instances of bullying and harassment and racial disputes within four divisions of the hospital.
“The specific issues raised varied from the contractual conditions of BME middle grade doctors, lack of training opportunities, little confidence in the independence of external investigations, glass ceilings on promotion, racist taunts, bullying and more general racial discrimination.”
Those behind the petition said that discrimination was operating not only against the interests of staff but putting patient safety at risk.
Among the examples cited in support of the petition, the organisers said: “BME doctors who have highlighted evidence to show trust officials have committed acts of perjury are now the recipients of a temporary High Court injunction with a High Court hearing planned for w/c 16 November.
“A white British consultant who had harassed BME doctors for years was only dismissed when a tape recording revealed his racist comments directed at the doctors.
“An FoI request in 2014 revealed that in the last decade the trust has spent approximately £1.6 million on discrimination cases of which £1.4 million concerns race discrimination.
“White British manager dismissed for racial harassment of a BME staff member reinstated on the grounds that it was her first offence. Following objections from BME members white British manager was paid to leave the organisation to avoid litigation.
“White British manager who showed a black member of staff a picture of a monkey on her computer … was initially found on investigation to be naive and therefore required equality and diversity training.
“However, an appeal panel which included a BME judge found that there was a case for the manager to answer and following a disciplinary hearing she was dismissed.”
The organisers of the petition also said that BME staff were under-represented in senior and better-paid jobs, more likely to ask for training but less likely to receive it and more likely to face disciplinary action.
One senior member of the trust said that it was a big organisation with thousands of staff from a number of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
It was almost inevitable that issues and tensions would sometimes arise and it was important that the trust did its best to establish the facts and “do the right thing”.
There was no complacency but “the challenges should not be underestimated” even if there were “relatively few bad apples”.