Michigan health system can't stop nurse's race bias case

A federal judge has denied Southfield, Mich.-based Beaumont Health System's request for summary judgment in a lawsuit alleging the health system violated federal race discrimination law, according to Law360.

Teoka Williams, RN, formerly a nurse at Beaumont's hospital in Dearborn, Mich., sued Beaumont for racial discrimination in 2017 after her supervisor allegedly agreed to a patient request for no black caregivers.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Williams overheard her patient tell someone on the phone, "I do not want that black bitch taking care of me." Ms. Williams reported this to her supervisor, Crystal Kopriva. The patient allegedly made a similar remark to Ms. Kopriva, who reassigned Ms. Williams and replaced her with a white nurse, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Williams alleges Beaumont engaged in race discrimination by reassigning her to accommodate the patient's request.

Beaumont filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Ms. Williams failed to present sufficient evidence of both intentional discrimination and damages. The health system contends Ms. Williams cannot provide reliable, consistent evidence that Beaumont had discriminatory intent when she was reassigned.

Ms. Williams admitted her progress notes are a "little off" when examined alongside her oral timeline of events. However, she said the notes are an accurate representation of what happened the night the patient requested a different nurse. She argued a jury should hear the case because her evidence is sufficient to create a genuine fact issue regarding Beaumont's discriminatory intent.

On Aug. 26, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts denied Beaumont's motion for summary judgment.

"On this record, a reasonable jury could conclude that the 'black bitch' comments, of which Kopriva was aware, constitute direct evidence of discrimination; a jury could find Kopriva's knowledge of the statements was contemporaneous with Williams' reassignment or causally related to the adverse action decision making process," the judge wrote in the opinion.

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