Gateway Health Plan sues after Pittsburgh commission investigates discrimination claims
Gateway Health Plan is suing the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission alleging the commission lacks authority to investigate claims that Gateway has discriminated against black employees seeking promotions.
Downtown-based Gateway alleges the commission has violated its constitutional right to due process and lacks authority to investigate the claims and subpoena company employment records.
Gateway “emphatically denies the commission’s allegations of race discrimination and affirms that its internal evaluation process is racially neutral, non-prejudicial and does not disparately impact Gateway employees,” according to the lawsuit filed in Allegheny County Court.
Carlos Torres, the commission’s executive director, said he issued a complaint on June 7, 2016, and also filed one with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after six to 10 Gateway employees contacted his office in 2016 complaining they were passed over for promotion.
Torres said he would not typically comment on a discrimination complaint, but Gateway made the issue public when it filed a lawsuit.
“The allegations are that African Americans are not provided the same opportunities for promotion,” Torres said Monday. “This is not about hiring. It’s once you’re hired, you’re kind of stuck.
“We heard that from a number of different employees, including male and female, young and older employees.”
He said Pittsburgh City Code authorizes the commission to investigate discrimination complaints and the commission has subpoena power.
Downtown Attorney W. Scott Hardy, who represents Gateway, was not available for comment Monday, according to his office. A call to Gateway’s Downtown offices was not returned.
Gateway, which is partly owned by Highmark Inc., insures people with Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans. It has more than 550,000 clients in six states, according to its website.
In its lawsuit, Gateway described the commission’s complaint as vague and lacking enough information to permit the company to address it.
It noted that the commission failed to identify employees in question and provide facts showing how the company’s promotion process was discriminatory.
Torres said the commission sought five years’ worth of employment records to see if Gateway exhibited a pattern of discrimination against blacks. He said Gateway employees who contacted his office were afraid of company retaliation if they filed individual complaints.
He said Gateway repeatedly said it would cooperate with the investigation, but delayed sending the information for months. When it did provide records last year, they included only 10 months of employment records.
Torres said the commission threatened to seek a court order for the documents if they were not received by Jan. 5. Gateway filed suit that day.
“We believe we have enough credible information to issue a commission generated complaint,” Torres said. “We’re talking about individuals who have been with the company for awhile. Their peers seemed to moving (up), but they appear to stay in the same place.
“The only thing these individuals had in common was they were African Americans.”