Catering to the request of a customer is not a defense to a racial discrimination claim. A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit nicely illustrates this rule of law. In Chaney v. Plainfield Healthcare Center, the defendant, Plainfield Healthcare Center, is a nursing home that housed a resident who did not want assistance from black certified nursing assistants. Plaintiff honored the resident’s racial preference by advising the plaintiff, Brenda Chaney, a black nursing assistant, that “no black” assistants should enter this resident’s room or provide her with care. Chaney sued Plainfield under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that Plainfield’s practice of acceding to the racial biases of its residents is illegal and created a hostile work environment. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Plainfield, holding that the nursing home’s racial preference policy violates Title VII by creating a hostile work environment.
In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit noted that “It is now widely accepted that a company’s desire to cater to the perceived racial preferences of its customers is not a defense under Title VII for treating employees differently based on race.” In holding that Plaintiff’s conduct created a racially hostile workplace, the court held:
More fundamentally, Plainfield never corrected the principle source of the racial hostility in the workplace—its willingness to accede to a patient’s racial preferences. The hostility that Chaney described came from daily reminders that Plainfield was employing her on materially different terms than her white co-workers. Fueling this pattern was the racial preference policy, both a source of humiliation for Chaney and fodder for her co-workers, who invoked it regularly. It was, in short, a racially hostile environment, and the evidence presented at summary judgment allows a jury to conclude that Plainfield took insufficient measures to address it.
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