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Heath Care Provider Created Racially Hostile Workplace by Accommodating Racist Resident

By Leeds Brown Law | October 13, 2010

A health care worker claims she was fired due to racial discrimination from a Plainfield nursing home. Plainfield Healthcare Center accommodated a resident’s request that no assistance shall be given from black certified nursing assistants.  Plainfield told Plaintiff, Brenda Chaney, a black nursing assistant, in writing everyday that “no black” assistants should enter this resident’s room or provide her with care.  Chaney filed a Title VII action, claiming Plainfield’s practice of acceding to the racial biases of its residents was illegal and created a hostile work environment.  The district court concluded that the note on Chaney’s assignment sheet advising her of the “Prefers No Black CNAs” exclusion was reasonable given Plainfield’s good-faith belief that ignoring the resident’s preferences would have violated Indiana’s patient-rights laws.  On appeal, Chaney and the EEOC argued that Plainfield’s racial-preference policy was an unlawful employment practice that, along with racial animosity from her co-workers, created an “unremediated, racially hostile workplace.”  In reversing, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a health-care provider’s policy of complying with patients’ wishes to be treated only by white health care workers can form the basis of a racially hostile work environment for non-white employees.  Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center

In order to impose liability for a racially hostile work environment, a minority plaintiff must show that the work environment was both objectively and subjectively hostile, and that the conduct was severe and pervasive.  The 7th Circuit Court pointed out that no single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment than the use of an unambiguously racial epithet.  The Court’s summary of its decision provides a directive to health-care provider/employers:  “Just as the law tolerates same-sex restrooms or same-sex dressing rooms, but not white-only rooms, to accommodate privacy needs, Title VII allows an employer to respect a preference for same-sex health providers, but not same-race providers.”  According to the Court, Plainfield’s exclusion of Chaney from certain residents and work areas solely on account of her race created a racially-charged situation that “poisoned the work environment” and created “fodder” for co-workers’ racially derogatory remarks.

The attorneys at Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., dedicate a large amount of their practice to discrimination claims.  For any questions, contact an attorney at the Leeds Morelli & Brown P.C. law firm for a free consultation at 1-800-585-4658. Leeds Morelli & Brown P.C.’s website is located at www.lmblaw.com.

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