In a shocking example of just how hard it is to work in the DEI arena — and how much this work continues to be needed — a Black executive has been let go by the company he was just about to start working for after they decided he was too focused on race.
Black Enterprise’s Tai Saint-Louis reported that “veteran diversity executive Joseph B. Hill is considering legal action after a Houston hospital rescinded its offer to bring him on board as their head of diversity and inclusion because he was ‘too sensitive about race issues.’”
In August 2021, Memorial Hermann Health Systems, the largest not-for-profit health system in southeast Texas, including 17 hospitals, eight cancer treatment centers, and 27 sports medicine and rehabilitation centers, offered Hill the position of vice president and chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer. After accepting the position, Hill drove from Atlanta to Houston to look for new housing with a realtor hired by his future employer. During this meeting, Hill said he experienced a number of microaggressions from the white realty agent.
According to Saint-Louis, Hill said, “the agent pointed out places he thought might be of interest, like a store owned by a rapper and a public golf course, which he identified as somewhere Hill might play as if to imply he wouldn’t have access to a private golf club.”
Hill was driving a Porsche SUV that the realtor also complimented, calling it a “nice rental car” after apparently assuming the executive couldn’t have bought it on his own.
After his encounter with the realtor ended, Hill emailed the human resources contact he had been working with, saying he felt it was important to share his experience, especially since the agent had been acting as a representative of the company.
“The experience crystalizes why the Chief, Equity Diversion and Inclusion Officer role is important for Memorial Hermann,” Hill wrote in the email. “Today, many companies are fraught with microaggressions that are unintentional or intentional that alienate employees. Memorial Hermann has an opportunity to truly leverage equity, diversity and inclusion to engage [its] workforce, enhance the brand and increase positive patient outcomes.”
Hill said that’s when things apparently turned sour with the company. Within days of his email going out, he claims he received a two-sentence note back from human resources informing him that the company had changed its mind over his hiring and was now going in “another direction.”
“When his attorney reached out two weeks later, Memorial Hermann stated that they were uncomfortable with Hill’s inquiries about building a staff to support him; that he had asked for a larger relocation budget; that he had charged a luxury rental car to the company; and that he was ‘too sensitive about race issues,’” Saint-Louis reported.
In an interview with NBC News, Hill said, “the reasons they listed were just as shocking as rescinding the offer.”
Hill said the hospital system never contacted him to follow up or address the issues he had brought up. He added that the allegations that he asked for an increased relocation budget and money for a luxury auto rental were both false. He is now meeting with an attorney to discuss his legal recourse in the matter.
“This is about doing the right thing, and the right thing in this case also is hoping other companies take this position of DEI seriously to make substantive changes and not just as a spot to fill for appearances’ sake,” Hill said. “That’s not helping the long-standing issues of lack of diversity or creating a safe, comfortable workspace for all employees.”
In a statement, Memorial Hermann has declined to comment further on the case, saying that they don’t publicly discuss issues related to hiring.
“However, the company added, they remain committed to their equity and diversity journey and are still looking to fill the position originally offered to Hill,” Saint Louis reported.