Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Racial discrimination in the hospital—legal?

A man requested that no African-American nurses care for his newborn at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich. There was a note posted on the assignment clipboard stating, “[n]o African-American nurse to take care of baby.”

Tonya Battle, an African-American nurse who felt jilted by the hospital administration’s granting of the request, is suing the hospital, reported The Detroit Free Press Monday. According to The Detroit Free Press, Battle has been an employee of the Hurley Medical Center for 25 years, and is a veteran of the neonatal intensive care unit. She is seeking punitive damages for emotional stress, mental anguish, humiliation and damage to her reputation.

The fact that the hospital granted the request is discouraging. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race. One especially expects to see this carried out in the workplace. Battle expected, reasonably, that the hospital would turn down such a request. Her legal actions are justified, of course. Many are joining her side. A law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Law stated, “[t]he patient’s father has the right to select the hospital to treat the child. The father does not have the right to exercise control over the hospital in discrimination of its employees,” according to The Detroit Free Press.

Still, laws against this particular sort of discrimination are slightly unclear. Are patients, for example, not allowed to request that their caretakers be of a certain gender? Whatever legislation arises from Battle’s case must determine what is appropriate. Requests such as that of the newborn’s father need to be made illegal, because at what point does customer service override employee equality and general social morality? The desire to satisfy a patient’s wishes (in order to acquire a patient’s payment) is an illegitimate rationale on which to uphold this patient’s special racist request, and should never get in the way of providing a safe and nondiscriminatory professional work environment. It should be the hospital’s job to uphold equality, not facilitate discrimination. Accommodating hostile attitudes toward different sects and races sends us spiraling backwards, especially when equality and social progress are at the forefront of President Barack Obama’s social agenda.

We hope that Battle’s legal case will strengthen the laws that hold racism as unacceptable. There needs to be a countrywide decision that this sort of request is wrong and will not be upheld.

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