A nurse is suing a Michigan hospital, alleging discrimination because managers agreed to a father's request that no black medical staff care for his baby.
The lawsuit alleges that a note was attached to the newborn's care chart stating that "NO AFRICAN AMERICAN NURSE TO TAKE CARE OF BABY."
The situation started when the father approached African-American nurse Tonya Battle while she was caring for his baby in the neonatal ICU of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint.
When she introduced herself, he asked to speak to her supervisor, to whom he explained that he didn't want African-Americans looking after his child. He also showed a tattoo that may have been "a swastika of some kind," the lawsuit alleges. Later Battle's manager phoned her at home and told her that the father's request would be granted.
Eventually the hospital's lawyer told staff they had to stop honoring the man's request, but prior to that, more than a month had passed during which no black staff had been permitted to care for the baby.
The case "puts into tension two different facets of the law," law prof. Lance Gable told the Detroit Free Press. Women patients can chose to see female gynecologists, for instance. But discriminating among medical staff on racial grounds probably breaches the 1964 Civil Rights Act, among other laws. "The bottom line is that the law is not clear about this, although I suspect the nurse will have a pretty strong case," Gable said.