Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (4)8 May 96


   The African-American nurse’s former position was filled by a white nurse at a higher salary.  The employer said she had more experience in industrial plant nursing.   She soon left, and was replaced by another African-American nurse, also with more experience in industrial plant nursing, at the same higher salary the white nurse had been paid. This dissuaded the court from finding the employer liable for racial discrimination or retaliation.

   A terminated employee who files a lawsuit for racial discrimination must prove that he or she is a member of a racial minority, that he or she was qualified for the position in question, that he or she was discharged and that the position was then filled by a non-minority with the same or lesser qualifications.

   Even if these factors are proven, the employer still can try to persuade the court with evidence that the adverse employment action in question was taken for a non-discriminatory reason.  UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, NORTH CAROLINA, 1994.

   An African-American licensed practical nurse was hired in a newly-created position as night shift nurse in a poultry processing facility. She was responsible for updating employee medical records, for performing random drug tests, and for attending to the medical needs of employees working her shift.

   She complained to the plant head nurse and to the manager of human resources that her recommendations for lighter, less repetitive assignments for certain employees were not being heeded by line supervisors. This caused personal friction with the line supervisors, but the court said it could find no evidence this was a factor in her termination.

   The nurse was terminated when the company’s director of human relations said he had come to believe the nurse herself had voiced an intention to quit due to job dissatisfaction, which she denied. In any event, the company stated it decided to terminate and replace the nurse because of an ambivalent attitude toward her job.

   The U.S. District Court in North Carolina conceded the evidence was, at best, highly conflicting as to the company’s true motivation. The court decided it had to follow the guidelines approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, and attempt to determine from the circumstances whether racial bias had occurred.

   Although this minority nurse was replaced with a non-minority, at a higher salary, which seemed like obvious evidence of racial bias, the position was then filled with another minority nurse, with superior qualifications, at the same higher salary the non-minority nurse had been paid. This, the court believed, was sufficient to show that the company had not been motivated by retaliation or racial discrimination in its decision to terminate and replace this nurse. Cromer vs. Perdue Farms, Inc., 900 F. Supp. 795 (M.D.N.C., 1994).