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Nurse charges patient request is discrimination

A hospital seems to be an unlikely place for workplace discrimination. But, an African-American nurse charged that a Dearborn hospital violated federal and Michigan employment law when it prevented her from treating a patient who objected to her race.

The nurse was a 10-year employee of the hospital when she was working the night shift and assigned to care for two patients in a hospital room on October 2, 2017. After examining both patients and leaving the room, she heard one patient say he did not want her treating him because of her race.

She told her clinical manager about his comments. She was prohibited from entering his room but still had to report about the two patients at the end of her shift.

The nurse complained to the hospital's human resource department, who told her that patient requests were always honored. She was also informed that she would be removed from an assignment if this happened again.

The nurse filed her complaint on August 13 in the U.S. District Court in Detroit. She charged that the hospital violated federal civil rights laws and Michigan's Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act.

Her attorney said that racial discrimination against health care workers occur throughout the industry because facilities often comply with patient requests, even if these requests are discriminatory. Similar cases filed in Michigan and across the country had different results.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not decided whether employers engage in discrimination if they meet the racist demands of clients or patients. Two previous cases filed in the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids were dismissed when the court ruled that the workers did not suffer harm because they were assigned to other patients.

Another 2013 lawsuit was settled for $200,000 and the hospital's agreement to change its policies. In that case, a medical center in Flint complied with the request of a swastika-tattooed father who demanded that white nurses care for his newborn son. A note was placed on the baby's chart prohibiting African-Americans from treating the baby, but it was removed a day later. A veteran neonatal nurse and three other employees filed this suit.

Victims of discrimination at any workplace may be entitled to damages and other relief when they are blocked from performing their job duties because of their race. An attorney can help gather evidence and seek this relief.

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