Rick Scott, the latest candidate to run for Florida governor in the Republican primary, has never held public office. Instead he is running on his record as a businessman. “Let’s make government justify every dollar it spends every year,” the lean, bald Scott says in one of his many TV ads running throughout the state. “That’s what I’ve done in business. That’s what I’ll do as governor.” The ads are raising the profile of the previously unknown 57-year-old, who earned millions in the health-care field. One poll showed him running about even with Democratic candidate Alex Sink.

But Scott’s record as a businessman is controversial. He is famous for earning a fortune in for-profit hospitals, until he was ousted as head of the country’s largest hospital chain in 1997, during an investigation that led to a criminal indictment of the corporation after the corporation was criminally indicted for massive Medicare fraud in 1997. That episode has been widely covered. Though Scott was never charged, he writes on his campaign website that ”I accept responsibility for what happened on my watch.”

To rebound, in 2001, Scott launched Solantic, a statewide chain of walk-in clinics based in Jacksonville. From the beginning, Scott and Solantic were dogged by lawsuits that accused the chain of serial discrimination, allegations that are relevant now that Scott is running to become Florida’s next CEO.

Scott formed Solantic with partner Karen Bowling, aiming to cater to the under- and uninsured, among others. They hired David Yarian as the company’s first medical director. He lasted four months. In that time, Yarian claims, Scott told him not to hire overweight women as a rule, and specifically prohibited him from hiring a qualified nurse because she was slightly overweight; told him not hire anyone of Middle Eastern descent after 9/11 because they might scare away customers; and prohibited Yarian from hiring a Hispanic male nurse candidate who had an accent because he was not “mainstream American.” Later, Yarian says, Scott repeated that directive. “He said in a meeting with all the other staff that the people we hire for our centers have to be mainstream American,” Yarian recalls.

A spokesperson for The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, without commenting on Solantic specifically, notes that the agency has seen words like “mainstream” and “clean-cut” used as code to discriminate on the basis of race and national origin before.

Yarian, who is married to an African-American woman, says he complained in an email to Scott that the hiring procedures could be considered discriminatory. He says he was told not to communicate with Scott anymore, and was fired a short time later. Yarian sued the company over his severance payout, and included his allegations in the lawsuit. Solantic settled with him for about $80,000 in 2002.

Scott, through a spokesman, dismisses Yarian as a disgruntled ex-employee. Bowling said in a deposition that Yarian was fired for violating company policies, including allowing a pharmaceutical representative to leave samples in his office and repeatedly complaining that Bowling was “refusing to consider well-qualified applicants because they spoke with a Hispanic accent or because they were overweight,” a charge Bowling said was untrue.

Five years after Yarian left, five Solantic clinic managers filed lawsuits claiming they were fired or retaliated against because “they did not want to enforce Solantic’s discriminatory practices.” The managers claimed in separate complaints they were told they could not hire qualified candidates because the candidates were too old or overweight. Some of the candidates were black and Hispanic, but the complaints don’t state if those were factors. One manager claimed she was so fearful of being fired if management saw photos of a black family member in her office that she took the photos down.

In Florida it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on sex, race, national origin, religion or age. It is not illegal to discriminate against someone because of one’s weight or appearance.

Two Solantic job candidates also filed complaints. One claimed she was hired only after she saw a memo a human resources employee accidentally left behind during an interview saying the candidate was too “hefty” to be hired. The other candidate, a black woman, was hired, but then after upper management saw her, the offer was rescinded. The company settled all seven complaints in 2007 for an undisclosed sum.

Scott was not named in any of the lawsuits. Bowling denies the company discriminates in hiring, and adds that blacks and Hispanics make up 37 percent of the workforce.

Scott, in a statement, says: “The company I founded, Solantic … has a vibrant and diverse workforce that is representative of the communities in which they are located, and our employees are dedicated to delivering quick, responsive and high quality care to all of our patients.”

Tristram Korten first reported about the above allegations in two pieces written for Salon.com, with reporting assistance provided by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

[Pic via rickscottforflorida.com]

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