Fifty-two University of Chicago Hospitals employees were fired in waves over the last month for parking in an on-campus garage without paying.
Patient complaints of scarce parking led to an investigation and interviews of suspected employees in late December and early January. Workers who had parked without payment more than once were fired without the option of paying restitution, according to a letter distributed to the offending workers in early January.
"[The investigators] tried to determine who had been parking in the garage inappropriately. They called those people in for an interview, tried to talk to them about whether they had done it, why they had done it," said hospital spokesman John Easton.
"The people who were thought to be repeat offenders were given the choice to resign or to be terminated." Easton said that those fired had parked on-campus every day for months without paying.
According to Easton, clerical workers, janitors, nurses, and technicians, but no doctors, were terminated.
Employees that park off-campus are allowed to move their cars on-campus after 5:00 p.m. without charge, Easton said. He added that offending employees were taking a ticket as they entered an on-campus garage and then using their employee IDs to get out of the garage without paying the parking fee.
According to published news reports, severed workers were upset that they were terminated without warning. Easton said that a memo was distributed that reminded employees of the parking policy and that it mentioned the overcrowding of garages. Easton was unclear as to if the memo explicitly said that workers violating the parking policy would be immediately fired.
In addition, Easton said the hospital's decision to terminate the workers was justified because, according to the hospital's policy, those who steal from the hospital need not be warned before they are terminated. Easton said that the hospital was treating the infractions as cases of theft.
Easton said that the hospital would prefer to forget the entire debacle. "This is a series of events that we would not like to see happen again," he said. "I think it has been a frustrating experience to people who worked here and were affected by it."
The Illinois Nurses Association is filing grievance charges against the Hospital, and several lawyers are filing lawsuits on behalf of individual former employees. A representative from the Illinois Nurses Association was not available to speak with the Maroon at press time.