“Open Secret” Causes Discrimination Against Medical Professionals

Charles W. Miller & Associates

Those in the medical field are required by an ethics code to treat any patient, regardless of race or gender. But apparently the same does not hold true for patients not discriminating against medical professionals based on these same criteria. Often called an “open secret” in the medical world, patients sometimes insist that they only be attended to by nurses or doctors of a certain race or gender, and even in this day and age, their requests are sometimes granted.

This obvious employment discrimination does not sit well with some, including two nurses in Michigan who have filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the hospital where they work. According to the lawsuit, a male white supremacist told the hospital that he didn’t want any African-American nurses tending to his newborn. In response to his request, a note was allegedly put on the infant’s chart that read “No African-American nurse to take care of baby.” Even after the note was taken off the chart, no minority nurses were assigned to care for the infant for at least a month.

While their actions do appear to be discriminatory, supervisors at the Michigan hospital may have felt they were doing the right thing for everyone involved. They may have thought they were protecting their nurses from a potentially violent situation by giving in to the father’s demands while keeping the father happy at the same time. However, the fact remains that if they were singling out employees based on their race and treating them differently, that is discrimination. As discussed in a previous article, even if the employer thinks they are acting in the employee’s best interest, he or she cannot treat an employee differently because of their race, age, gender, disability, or religion.

This type of discrimination also puts medical professionals in a difficult position. If patients require immediate medical attention, but they have requested that no one of a certain race or gender be allowed to treat them, should a prohibited doctor or nurse just ignore the medical emergency? If they do help the patient, can they be fired for disobeying orders? If they don’t, could they be faced with a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit? Just because a patient doesn’t want to be treated by a particular person doesn’t mean the family would agree if the patient died because of a lack of treatment. Then the hospital and the doctor or nurse who didn’t take action could be held liable.

No one should ever be denied the opportunity to do their job, especially in the medical field, which is constantly wanting for qualified caring individuals. This “open secret” is one that needs to be silenced. If you have experienced discrimination in your place of employment, whether it is a hospital or elsewhere, for whatever reason, contact a Kentucky employment law attorney at the offices of Miller & Falkner to assist you.


Some patients won’t see nurses of different race; Associated Press; Jeff Karoub; February 22, 2013

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