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James Tarquin, P.A
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Nurse Claims Race Discrimination When She Was Reassigned To Cater To Patient’s Racial Preference

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Having litigated race discrimination lawsuits for almost two decades, our Inverness, Florida race discrimination lawyers know that many employers continue to cater to the discriminatory racial preferences of customers. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), it is an unlawful employment practice for employers to accommodate the racial preferences of customers. As explained by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), Title VII “tolerates no racial discrimination, subtle or otherwise.” The recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Williams v. Beaumont Health System, Case No. 18-12522 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 26, 2019) demonstrates that an employer’s decision to assign job duties to employees based on the racial preferences of its customers is a form of race discrimination prohibited by Title VII.

Nurse Reassigned Based On Patient’s Racial Preference

In that case, Teoka Williams (Williams) brought a racial discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Beaumont Health System (Beaumont), pursuant to Title VII. Williams, who is African-American, alleges that Beaumont violated Title VII by reassigning her on the basis of race in order to accommodate a patient’s racial preference.

Williams was employed by Beaumont as a registered nurse. Williams worked at Beaumont’s hospital in Dearborn, Michigan. On November 1, 2017, Williams was responsible for caring for six patients. After assisting one of the patients, Williams left the patient’s room but overheard a phone call that the patient began while she was still in the room. Williams alleges that, as she stood outside the patient’s room, she heard the patient tell someone that she did not want a black nurse. After overhearing the patient’s remark, Williams told her supervisor, Kopriva, about the comment. Williams contends that Kopriva then spoke to the patient; Williams says that, while she was standing outside the patient’s room, she heard the patient tell Kopriva that she did not want a black nurse. After she spoke to the patient, Kopriva then reassigned Williams and replaced her with a white nurse.

Following her shift, Williams made a written complaint to the human resources department about the incident. On November 8, 2017, Williams met with human resources personnel. Williams alleges that she was told that “patients have the right to refuse care for whatever reason.” Williams further claims that she was told that “a patient refusing care based on race is no different from a Middle Eastern female requesting not to have a male as her nurse.”

Race Cannot Be A Basis For Employment Decisions

Beaumont filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Williams’ race discrimination claim. In defending its decision to reassign Williams, Beaumont argued that Williams’ case failed because there was no evidence that Kopriva explicitly expressed a racial motivation for changing the patient’s nursing assignment. The trial court rejected this argument and ruled that Williams had presented sufficient evidence to bring her race discrimination claim before a jury for resolution.

At the outset of its opinion, the trial court explained that “any intentional use of race—whether for malicious or benign motives—is subject to careful judicial scrutiny.” In rejecting Beaumont’s argument, the trial court determined that “this case is about what Kopriva and Beaumont believed,” not whether Kopriva and Beaumont admitted that the decision to reassign Williams was based on race. The trial court further explained that Title VII is violated when an employer uses race as a basis for an adverse employment decision. Thus, if Kopriva reassigned Williams because the patient did not want a black nurse, then the reassignment was based on Williams’ race and violated Title VII. Under such circumstances, the trial court pointed out, the “record need not contain evidence of bad faith, ill will, or any evil motive on the part of the employer.”

Having set forth the proper analytical framework to evaluate Williams’ race discrimination claim, the trial court concluded that there was direct evidence establishing that Kopriva reassigned Williams based on the patient’s racial preference. The trial court pointed out that Williams testified that she overheard the patient tell someone on the phone that she did not want a black nurse. When Kopriva spoke to the patient, Williams overheard the patient tell Kopriva that she did not want a black nurse. “Within moments” of these incidents, the trial court observed, Kopriva reassigned Williams and replaced her with a white nurse. From this evidence, the trial court concluded, “a reasonable jury could find that ‘unlawful discrimination’ (i.e., reassigning Williams because of her race) was at least a motivating factor in the employer’s actions.”

Consultation With Inverness Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Inverness, Florida race discrimination attorneys have been representing victims of racial discrimination for almost two decades. If you have been discriminated against on the basis of race or have questions about your rights under the federal civil rights laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Inverness, Florida race discrimination lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take race discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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