Sandrea Butler, a nursing assistant at the Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility, says that a nurse told her that neither she nor any black employees could touch a specific white patient. Butler added that the patient had complained that he'd been bruised after being handled by a black worker, reports WNEM in Saginaw, but later retracted that. Her own experience with the older white man had been nothing but cordial, she said. They chatted baseball.
"It plays in your mind, and you feel like you are nothing," Butler told the TV station. "I know I'm something. I know I graduated from college. I know I have certificates. I know I've been working in the health care field for 12 years. But do you feel like you're as good as a white person?"
She added that the public way the comment was made, in front of all the other residents, was particularly painful. As is the fact that she's dedicated herself to caring for all people. If that white man suddenly became critically ill, she said, she would race to his side to try to save his life.
"My certificate does not have a race on it," she added.
Rick Cordonnier, the facility administrator for the medical center didn't respond to AOL Jobs' request for comment, but in an interview with WNEM he defended the decision, saying it's important for the center to comply with a patient's wishes, whether it's a nurse of a specific gender, or race. "We are protecting staff members from potential allegations," he also said.
Making race-based decisions about what your employees can do on the job, even if at the request of a customer, violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to Justine Lisser, senior attorney-adviser at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing workplace anti-discrimination law.
"Customer preference is no excuse for race discrimination. It's pretty clear," she told AOL Jobs, adding that the one narrow exception when job discrimination is permissible, is when the job is profoundly intimate -- for example a home care aide who is responsible for bathing a patient. In that case it would be acceptable for someone to request a caregiver of the same gender.
"Just as the law tolerates same-sex restrooms or same-sex dressing rooms, but not white-only rooms, to accommodate privacy needs," explained employment lawyer and AOL Jobs contributor Donna Ballman over email, "Title VII allows an employer to respect a preference for same-sex health providers, but not same-race providers."
Another Michigan medical facility that was recently accused of obliging patient's racial preferences, the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, settled quickly with a black nurse for an undisclosed amount.
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