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No summary judgment for health-care facility with racial-preference policy

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The District Court erred in granting summary judgment to a long-term health-care facility which prevented black workers from assisting certain residents based on the residents’ requests, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

Brenda Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center, No.09- 3661, pits a health-care worker’s right to a non-discriminatory workplace against a patient’s demands for white-only health-care providers. Plainfield had a policy of honoring the racial preferences of its residents in assigning health-care providers. Brenda Chaney, a nurse aide who is black, was instructed in her daily assignment sheet to not provide care for Marjorie Latshaw, who preferred to not have black nursing assistants. Chaney went along with the policy, even having to not assist Latshaw once when she found her on the floor.

In the three months she worked at the facility, Chaney claimed she was subject to racially tinged comments and epithets from co-workers. Chaney was fired by the director of nursing when a nurse accused her of using profanity when lifting a resident onto her bedside commode.

Chaney filed suit claiming hostile workplace and discriminatory discharge. The District Court granted summary judgment because it concluded Plainfield avoided liability by responding promptly each time it received a complaint, and that the note on the daily assignment sheet was reasonable given Plainfield’s good-faith belief that ignoring a resident’s preferences would violate Indiana’s patient-rights laws. It also found Chaney didn’t produce evidence to show she was fired because of her race.

The 7th Circuit had no trouble finding that a reasonable person would find Plainfield’s work environment hostile or abusive. The facility acted to foster and engender a racially charged environment through its assignment sheet that reminded Chaney and her black co-workers that certain residents didn’t want blacks working with them, wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams.

“Unlike white aides, Chaney was restricted in the rooms she could enter, the care that she could provide, and the patients she could assist,” she wrote.

In addition, a company’s desire to cater to racial preferences of its customers is not a defense under Title VII for treating employees different based on race. The judges disagreed with Plainfield’s argument that since it’s both a medical provider and permanent home for residents, the rights of residents must be honored before considering its Title VII obligations to employees. Plainfield’s policy is not a reasonable and good-faith effort to comply with Indiana law, which conflicts with federal law.

“Had a resident sued Plainfield under the patient’s rights provision, Title VII would have supplied an affirmative defense,” she wrote. “Title VII does not, by contrast, contain a good-faith ‘defense’ that allows an employer to ignore the statute in favor of conflicting state law.”

The Indiana law also doesn’t require Plainfield to instruct its employees to accede to the racial preferences of its residents, and the facility’s interpretation of the law puts Plainfield at risk of violating duties of medical care that it owes its residents.

The Circuit judges also found a reasonable jury could conclude that Plainfield’s grounds for firing Chaney cloaked the “forbidden motivation of race.” When she was fired, the facility said it was because she swore; later it contended it was because Chaney failed to respond to a bed alarm. But in the incident for which she was fired, another nurse who was supposed to respond chose not to answer the patient’s bed alarm. Instead Chaney responded, despite the patient not being in her unit. That nurse wasn’t fired or punished for the event.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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