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
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
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
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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