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A Patient Request Is Not An Excuse For Race Discrimination

Forty-nine-year-old Tonya Battle has worked for the same hospital for 25 years. Currently she’s a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She may have thought she’d seen it all, until one father’s request floored her: he asked the hospital to ensure that no African-American nurses cared for his newborn.

Battle is African American; she was reassigned to care for another child the day of the request and has since filed a lawsuit against her employer for discriminating against her based on her race.

According to her lawsuit, a note was placed on the child’s chart that no African-American nurses were to be assigned to the man’s child. The charge nurse who took the request noted that the man had a swastika tattooed on his forearm.

The case has left many speculating as to the rights of patients or their parents to request a hospital to discriminate against its own employees. Allowing a hospital to hide behind the excuse that the discrimination – whether based on race as in this case, or on gender, age, religion or some other protected class – was done at the request of the patient should not absolve the employer of the requirement that it provide a workplace free from discrimination.

As Battle notes, where would the line be drawn? Would post-its be placed on drinking fountains disallowing people of a specific race from using that particular fountain?

The man’s child was in the NICU for an extended period of time, during which no African American nurses were assigned to the baby’s care.

Source: USA Today, “Nurse sues after hospital grants dad’s racial request,” February 18, 2013

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