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Adam Abrahms Quoted in “Racist Requests: How Should Hospitals Treat Patient Bias?”

Bloomberg Law

Adam C. Abrahms, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management and Health Care & Life Sciences practices, in the firm’s Los Angeles office, was quoted in Bloomberg Law, in “Racist Requests: How Should Hospitals Treat Patient Bias?” by Meg McEvoy.

Following is an excerpt:

Teoka Williams, a nurse working the midnight shift at Beaumont Medical Center in Dearborn, Mich., had just finished assessing her patients when she overheard one of them say she didn’t want a “black b**ch” taking care of her.

That’s according to Williams’ complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Williams brought a federal discrimination case after her supervisor complied with the patient’s request and took Williams off the case.

The lawsuit is indicative of a trend employment lawyers in the health-care field are seeing: more complaints on behalf of health-care staff for discrimination at the request of patients.

The problem is so compelling, in fact, that it has been dramatized in popular fiction: a novel by Jodi Picoult, based on a real case brought by a nurse who was barred from caring for a white baby, is being made into a movie with Viola Davis.

Hospital counsel say nondiscrimination law is clear, but that health-care providers must perform a tough balancing act, avoiding discrimination while protecting employees from harassment and considering quality of patient care. …

Best Practices

When a patient makes a biased, potentially unlawful request, hospitals have three main considerations to balance, according to Adam C. Abrahms, a partner with Epstein Becker Green in Los Angeles in the firm’s employment and health law practices.

First, hospitals, like any employer, have an obligation to comply with nondiscrimination laws.

“It is unlawful not to provide somebody an assignment, even in a health-care setting, or provide them with some other assignment based on the racist or other discriminatory demands of a patient or a customer,” Abrahms told Bloomberg Law.

Second, hospitals have to protect employees from harassment. Hospitals have “an equal obligation” to remove employees from situations where they could be subject to harassment, “usually based on the employee’s preference,” Abrahms said.

Hospitals need to “be cognizant that communication can be key,” Abrahms said. Williams alleges her supervisor removed her from the case without getting her input.

Third, according to Abrahms, there is a consideration that is unique to the hospital context: patient care.

Hospitals often need to provide care to “patients that may be undesirable or that we disagree with on many things,” Abrahms said.

“There is nothing wrong with a health-care provider dealing with an alert, competent patient and requiring them to act appropriately,” Abrahms said. “But it becomes more complicated if you have someone who’s not mentally stable.”

“Health-care providers need to look at these issues and provide a balance,” Abrahms said. “These are all very delicate, fact-specific discussions.”