Honoring A Patient’s Racist Requests Constitutes Discrimination

A recent Seventh Circuit opinion held that honoring a patient’s racist request constituted a violation of a black nursing assistant’s rights under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Ctr., a nursing home patient requested that a black nursing home assistant refrain from providing her care. The nursing home honored this request. In her claim based on race discrimination, the healthcare assistant argued that the daily reminder on the assignment sheet not to enter the patient’s room or provide care, along with co-workers racist’s comments created a “hostile work environment.” A unanimous appeals panel agreed.

Writing for the court, Judge Anne Claire William reasoned that a racial preference policy violates a worker’s right to a non-discriminatory workplace under Title VII. By honoring the patient’s requests, the nursing home created an environment adversely impacting the nursing assistant. The court distinguished this case from those cited by the defense allowing sex-based preferences in health care settings. Where gender based preferences are allowed, often privacy concerns exist – such as dressing and undressing – that do not apply to race.

The court also rejected the nursing home’s argument that it was trying to comply with state and federal regulations regarding the need to honor patients’ wishes regarding health care – holding that Title VII would preempt any state law requiring an employer to institute a race-based work practice and that “Title VII does not …contain a good-faith ‘defense’ that allows an employer to ignore the statute in favor of conflicting state law.”

Finally, the court dismissed the nursing home’s claim that “customer preference” could serve as a defense to claims of discrimination. Cases showing gender based bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) exceptions to Title VII for long-term care were not applicable.

Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination against employees on the basis of their race, color, national origin, and religion. Policies favoring a worker’s right to be free from discrimination trump patient or customer requests where those requests create a discriminatory environment.

For more information, or if you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, please contact the Law Firm of Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP, a Georgia law firm dedicated to employee’s rights.