Q: I operate a nursing care facility in New Hampshire. One of my patients is demanding to be assisted by white only health care providers. I fear that if I don’t do this, I will lose the patient. Can I honor this request?
A. This is not an uncommon question in the service industry. In your situation it is a patient demanding white only care providers but it also comes up when, for instance, a restaurant patron asks for a white only server, or a customer of a business asks for a white only account representative. The answer in all cases is NO. It would be a violation of equal employment opportunity laws if an employer honors a patient or a customer’s request that he or she not be served by someone because of their race or color.
The main law which applies in these cases is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Federal law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating in any way regarding terms and conditions of work including segregating or classifying employees in any way which would deprive employment opportunities or adversely affect the status as an employee, because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Many states, such as New Hampshire, also have state laws which are very similar to the Federal discrimination laws.
An employer can classify employees on the basis of religion, sex, or national origin where such classification is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of a particular business. For instance, sex may be a bona fide occupational qualification in requiring that a woman work as an attendant in a women’s washroom. Race, however, is specifically excluded from the list of acceptable bona fide occupational qualifications.
In conclusion, it would be a violation of equal employment opportunity laws if an employer honors a customer’s request that he or she not be served by someone because of their race. The Employer should also keep in mind that it would not be the customer preference which dictates the permissible discrimination but rather the evaluation of a bona fide occupational qualification which is reasonably necessary to the performance of the job. In your situation, you would run afoul of the federal and state antidiscrimination laws if you honored your patient’s demand.