When Discrimination Turns Deadly

Nurses of color are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates.  While more than 80 percent of nurses in this country are white, almost 60 percent of nurses who have died of COVID-19 are nurses of color.  More than 30 percent of nurses who have died are Filipino, even though they account for only 4 percent of all nurses nationwide.

Part of the story is simply tragic.  Nurses of color tend to work in urban areas hardest hit by the pandemic.  Many work two jobs or double shifts to support extended families.  More shifts mean more exposure to the virus.

Part of the story, however, is inexcusable and illegal discrimination.

Discrimination in Terms of Tele-Commuting and Personal Protective Equipment

We recently filed a lawsuit against a hospice on behalf of Hispanic social workers for discrimination in terms of permission to work remotely, the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), and accommodations for those who are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 infections.

The complaint alleges that the hospice's workforce is segregated by race.  All the executives and almost all the nurses are White.  Most of the full-time social workers are Hispanic.  All the home health care aides are Black or Hispanic.

This stark segregation of the workforce is exacerbated by discrimination and a pervasively hostile work environment for Hispanic and Black employees.

For example, our complaint alleges that most white employees were allowed to work remotely -- including the mostly white nurses who were providing medical care -- while Hispanic social workers were required to work face-to-face with patients and family members who are infected with COVID-19.  The Hispanic social workers were also denied adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and training.

One Hispanic social worker with a compromised immune system was told that she had to visit families and patients in their homes after they tested positive for COVID-19 unless they were “actively infectious.”  The hospice has not explained how an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 could be considered not “actively infectious.”

Discrimination is Illegal

The rules for dealing with COVID-19 are complicated, confusing, and seem to change constantly.  But one rule remains the same.  When it comes to protecting you from COVID-19 in the workplace, your employer may not discriminate against you based on your race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.  Your employer also must work with you to develop a reasonable accommodation for any disability that may make you more susceptible to COVID-19 complications.  A disability may include a pregnancy, a compromised or weakened immune system, or another medical condition that increases your risk of complications.

You do not have to put your life at risk to keep your job.  If your employer has discriminated against you in terms of PPE or work assignments during this pandemic, give us a call at (212) 601-2728 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.  You may have a claim.

John Howley, Esq.

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