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Healthcare system wins summary judgment in discrimination lawsuit

By: Laura Brown//November 14, 2023//

Healthcare system wins summary judgment in discrimination lawsuit

By: Laura Brown//November 14, 2023//

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A former nurse at Allina Health System filed lawsuit alleging discriminatory conduct on the basis of his race. On Oct. 31, the U.S. District Court granted Allina’s motion for summary judgment.

Desmond Fielding began working as a nursing assistant for Allina in 2007 before being promoted to a registered nurse. Although he was the recipient of several “Care on the Spot Awards,” given to Allina employees who provide exceptional care to patients, he was also the recipient of several patient complaints.

Between 2014 and 2017, Fielding received 10 patient complaints. Once instance included threatening to take a call light away from a patient. In fall of 2018, Fielding received six new complaints. One patient’s family reported that Fielding shook a sleeping patient and said, “Wake up and quit sleeping on the job.” The patient’s wife asked for water, and Fielding allegedly said, “There is a water fountain right outside. Or you can get some exercise and come follow me.” In March of 2019, Fielding received corrective action for six incidents that occurred between January and March of 2019. One of these included assuming a patient was from Somalia and stating that Somalian women do not like when men take care of them. The patient’s son clarified that they were from Ethiopia, not from Somalia.

In the midst of patient complaints, Fielding was reporting racial incidents he had with both staff and patients. Fielding alleged that fellow nurses made derogatory comments about him, using the N-word, referring to him as “boy,” and using the phrase “you Blacks.” However, Fielding was unable to identify when those comments were made and how often they occurred.

Things came to a head in December 2019. Fielding was assigned to care for a patient with end-stage esophageal cancer. The patient, who had a gastrostomy tube, reported nausea and vomiting after feedings. A doctor advised that the patient switch from bolus feeds to pump feedings. Despite this, Fielding fed the patient by syringe, prompting the man to vomit, because he apparently did not want to take the time to set the pump up.

Before he was terminated, Fielding filed a charge with the EEOC and Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights (MDCR). In March 2021, the MDCR concluded that there was no probable cause of discrimination. Subsequently, the EEOC issued Fielding a notice of right to sue. Fielding filed the lawsuit against Allina in June 2021.

Allina moved for summary judgment. The court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

The court first considered Fielding’s claims for both direct and indirect discrimination. Although Fielding asserted that staff and patients made discriminatory comments based on his race, the court did not find evidence of discrimination. There was no evidence of how or when the comments were made. Nor did the court find evidence of indirect discrimination. It concluded that, despite prior awards, Fielding was not meeting Allina’s legitimate expectations, and that there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Fielding’s termination.

The court disagreed with Fielding that there was retaliation. “[T]he record reflects that Fielding often engaged in protected activity after receiving corrective action,” the court wrote. It provided an example of Fielding receiving corrective action and then, six days later, reporting that he and other African American nurses were being harassed and experiencing hostile working conditions. Since Fielding did not provide sufficient evidence showing a causal link between the protected activity and his termination—in fact, showing the opposite—the court found that the retaliation claims failed.

Finally, the court rejected Fielding’s hostile work environment claim. “[C]omplaints were made against Fielding by a multitude of people, including nurses, other staff, and patients,” the court noted. “Most of these complaints were corroborated by others. While Fielding may dispute the complaints, he has not demonstrated that any of the complaints were based on his race, color, or national origin.”


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