A father's racist request to not have an African American nurse care for his newborn was honored by the nurse's hospital in violation of her civil rights, the nurse says in a new lawsuit against her employer. Observers say that the case could require balancing the father's rights to make medical decisions for his child against laws protecting the nurse against workplace discrimination.
The nurse has been an employee of her hospital for nearly 25 years, several of those years in the facility's neonatal intensive care unit. She was on duty on Oct. 31, 2012, when a man came into the unit and reached for one of the infants. When she asked the man to show her his wrist band identifying him as the father, the man demanded to see her supervisor.
Puzzled, the nurse had the charge nurse speak to the man. When the charge nurse returned, she told the plaintiff that the father was a white supremacist. The man had showed the charge nurse a swastika tattoo and said that he only wanted white nurses to care for his baby.
The staff acceded to the man's demand, reassigning the plaintiff and entering a note on the infant's chart that read "No African American nurse to take care of baby." The infant was in the NICU for about a month and no African American nurses were assigned to that child in that time.
The plaintiff accuses the hospital of racially discriminating among its employees. Her lawsuit seeks punitive damages for damage to her reputation, stress and other damages. She said that the hospital's decision made her feel that segregation could be a possibility at her workplace.
One law professor said that parents have the right to select what medical facility their children will be treated at, but not the race of the staff caring for the children. Another professor said that patients generally can request a certain gender or even religion, but that requesting a certain race may violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other state or federal laws designed to make workplace discrimination illegal.
Source: USA TODAY, "Nurse sues after hospital grants dad's racial request," Robin Erb, Feb. 18, 2013