Good news for employers that try their best to maintain a harassment-free workplace, but sometimes fail: Courts understand there are limits to what employers can do when it comes to limiting all racially hostile comments and acts.
Recent case: Jacqueline, who is black, was a nurse at a community hospital. She protested when she was assigned to work with a patient who was known for making “intolerable racist comments” and for targeting “minorities within the staff and making complaints” against them. After the patient, who had dementia, “repeatedly denigrated” Jacqueline and called her the N-word, she demanded thatstop the abuse.
Supervisors explained that they had tried, but couldn’t do anything to prevent the patient’s outbursts. They told her that it was something she would “just have to deal with.”
Jacqueline sued, alleging she had been forced to work in a racially hostile work environment.
The court dismissed her case after the hospital explained that there wasn’t anything it could do to make an Alzheimer’s patient behave the way Jacqueline wanted. It concluded the hospital wasn’t responsible for the abuse because there really wasn’t a practical way to end it. (Wright v. Monroe Community Hospital, No. 11-3520, 2nd Cir., 2012)
Final note: Control what you can, don’t worry about what you can’t. You can punish co-workers, supervisors, prisoners, students and other individuals over whom you have control and influence for aberrant behavior. For example, if a customer is abusive, you can and must stop it, even if it means losing the customer.
On the other hand, there isn’t much you can do to stop name calling by those with mental disorders, especially in an institutional or health care setting where you must provide services to all.