"No black nurses" lawsuit is the lawsuit that was filed by an African American nurse after a hospital posted a note on an assignment clipboard stating “No African American nurse to take care of baby.” Tonya Battle, who has been a registered nurse and a veteran of the neonatal intensive care unit at Hurley Medical Center for nearly 25 years, filed the lawsuit in the Genesee County Circuit Court last month.
According to a Feb. 19, 2013, Detroit Free Press report, Tonya Battle is “seeking punitive damages for emotional stress, mental anguish, humiliation and damage to her reputation.”
On Oct. 31, 2012, 49-year-old Tonya Battle was tending to a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit when a man came into the unit and was reaching for the baby. According to protocol, Tonya asked the man for the hospital-issued identification band which is used to identify each baby’s parents.
Instead of responding to Tonya Battle’s request, the man said that he needed to see her supervisor.
“Perplexed by his curtness, she asked for the charge nurse, who spoke separately to the man.When the charge nurse returned, she told Battle that the father didn't want African Americans to care for his child. Further, the charge nurse told Battle that he had rolled up his sleeve to expose what appeared to be a swastika.”
"’I felt like I froze,’ Battle said. ‘I just was really dumbfounded. I couldn't believe that's why he was so angry (and) that's why he was requesting my charge nurse. I think my mouth hit the floor. It was really disbelief’."
Even more unbelievable than the man’s request that no African American nurse would take care of the baby was the action of the hospital who supported him.
According to the lawsuit, Tonya Battle was reassigned after the charge nurse had passed on the father’s request to her supervisor. While the note on the clipboard was removed, neither Tonya Battle nor any other African American nurse was assigned to take care of the baby for about a month.
While it is not uncommon for parents to express specific wishes to hospitals in regard to the care of a baby, discriminating against race appears to violate any civil rights acts that were established in order to prevent racial discrimination.
"The patient's father has the right to select the hospital to treat the child. The father does not have the right to exercise control over the hospital in discrimination of its employees," said Larry Dubin, a law professor at University of Detroit Mercy's School of Law who considers the hospital’s action "morally repugnant."
Unfortunately, being “morally repugnant” is not the same as legally objectionable.
Even though there are laws prohibiting discrimination, the law does not seem to be clear in regard to Tonya Battle’s case.
Tonya Battle’s lawyer, Julie Gafkay, who is an employment discrimination and civil rights lawyer in Frankenmuth, states that while hospitals do receive similar requests as in Tonya Battle’s case, it is an employer’s task to “guard against racial discrimination.”
Should the hospital have supported the father or the nurse?