In one of the latest incidents, GRAND RAPIDS, MI has reported a case in which a black nurse has sued Spectrum Health System as she claimed that officials had accepted a white patient’s request for no black caregivers.
Michelle Acklen, who was working for Spectrum Health through Cross Country Staffing, said she was re-assigned to patients on numerous occasions until her assignment ended in July.
In a lawsuit which was filed in the U.S. District Court, attorney Julie Gafkay said that Acklen felt harassed and humiliated because of the segregation of her duties and discriminated against as she was unable to perform her nursing responsibilities because of her race. Furthermore, her reputation has suffered damage.
According to Gafkay, Acklen, who lives in Tennessee, worked at Spectrum Health Rehab and Nursing Centre on Fuller Avenue NE and had been placed by the staffing agency in early October 2016. Having been assigned to Spectrum Health, Acklen was required to follow its practices and to report to Spectrum Health supervisors, and as such, she was treated as a Spectrum Health worker.
The debacle had started in March when a supervisor told Acklen that a certain patient no longer wanted black caregivers or nurses. According to Acklen, the patient’s request was granted. It was noted in the lawsuit that when she was assigned to the patient’s floor, she had to change patients with a white nurse.
Gafkay noted that the defendant had intentionally discriminated against African American employees, including the plaintiff, when it required that no black employees care for a certain Caucasian patient.
In its case of defense, Spectrum Health said that it does not allow patients to choose caregivers based solely on race or other characteristics. Spectrum Health would not comment on details of active litigation, but said in a statement:
“Spectrum Health deeply values the diversity of our employees, medical staff, patients, volunteers, and visitors. This includes cultivating a diverse workforce and creating an environment of mutual respect for all. Our policy is very specific and clear that we do not accommodate requests by patients to receive care from a team member based solely on characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, pregnancy status, marital status, height, weight or color. We do not tolerate discrimination or engage in discriminatory behaviors.”
In a similar case in 2013, Gafkay had filed a lawsuit against the Hurley Medical Centre in Flint. The defendant was forced to pay nearly $200,000 to settle a case against it in which a nurse claimed that she was not allowed to treat an infant because she is black.
In 2015, two separate lawsuits were filed against Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Tamika Foster claimed that she had suffered an adverse employment action whilst working there. But according to U.S. District Judge, Janet Neff, the plaintiff had no case as she could not prove that assignments and remuneration were based on race. Also, it was clear that white patients were being cared for by black nurses. In answer to the questions as to whether Foster could claim for intentional discrimination, it was stated on record before the Court that she could not as any effect on her was de minimus (minor) and temporary.
In another lawsuit filed against the same hospital, nursing supervisor Jill Crane contended that her employer allocated assignments and decided on promotion based on race. Crane said in the lawsuit that she had been told that blacks could not care for white patients at the request of the family. Once again, the hospital refuted these claims saying that there were no adverse effects on her employment and that her claims of not being able to care for white patients as a black nurse, were unfounded.
U.S. JUDGE Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo ruled that according to the Sixth Circuit (Court of Appeals) ‘mere inconvenience or alteration of job responsibilities’ does not constitute an adverse employment action and do not warrant discrimination claims. According to him, an adverse employment condition usually involves a change in hiring status, demotion, or a decision to change benefits.
The federate appellate affirmed Maloney’s decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. The case was dismissed.
However, other courts hold forth that job assignments based on race, border on adverse employment action even when remuneration is not affected since the terms and conditions of employment are.
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