Healthcare News & Insights

Racial discrimination: Nurse sues hospital for granting father’s ‘no black nurses’ request

Healing patients and helping them return to their normal lives has always been a top priority for hospitals. What has climbed in importance, is improving patients’ hospital experiences by attending to their wants and needs. But when is a request too much? 

How about when it’s racially motivated?

This issue recently came to light at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, MI.

A father asked a nursing supervisor not to allow any African-American nurses to care of his newborn. Now, the African-American nurse that was assigned to care for the man’s baby is suing the hospital for granting the father’s request.

Tonya Battle, a 49-year-old nurse and a veteran of the neonatal intensive care unit, said she was shocked by the hospital’s actions. A nearly-25 year employee of Hurley Medical Center, Battle feels the hospital should have turned down the father’s request immediately, and by not doing so the facility discriminated against Battle based on her race.

The story

According to the lawsuit, Battle was in the neonatal intensive care unit on Oct. 31, when a man approached and reached for a baby. Battle introduced herself as the nurse taking care of his baby and asked to see his hospital identification band used to identify infants’ parents. The man told Battle he needed to see her supervisor.

After the charge nurse met with the man, she told Battle he requested that no African Americans care for his child and showed her a tattoo on his arm which appeared to be a swastika. The charge nurse then passed the request on to her supervisor who told her to grant the request.

A note was then placed on the assignment clipboard that said “No African-American Nurse to Take Care of Baby.”

Later, the hospital’s lawyer informed management the hospital couldn’t grant the request and the father was informed of the matter.

However, the practice of not assigning the infant’s care to an African American nurse continued for the duration of the child’s stay.

Battle is pursing a lawsuit on the grounds of emotional stress, mental anguish, humiliation and damage to her reputation.

Playing devil’s advocate

In USA Today, Larry Dubin, a lawyer at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, said if the story is true, it’s “morally repugnant.” He went on to say that while a parent has the right to choose a hospital, he or she doesn’t have the right to discriminate against its employees.

While this case has many people outraged, blog comments have brought up the fact that many women chose only to be treated by female doctors, and men often chose male doctors.

And what about religion? Some people prefer doctors who understand their religious convictions when it comes to medical treatments.

Is there a difference?

Yes, according to Vickie Winn, a spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She said the hospital tries to accommodate patients’ request for providers when it comes to gender and religion, but not race.

Lance Gable, an associate professor specializing in health law at Wayne State University Law School, who was also quoted in USA Today, said there are laws prohibiting this type of discrimination, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Has your hospital ever received a request such as this? If so, how did you handle it? Share your experience in the comments box below.


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  1. There was an incident that happened before the Hurly Medical Center case. It happened to me 5 months ago. It happens frequently in hospitals. Sometimes the person being discriminated against doesn’t even know it.