September 20, 2012 | | Comments 0
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Discrimination settlement reveals underlying diversity issues

Earlier this week, a language discrimination settlement–thought to be the largest of its kind in the healthcare industry–awarded $975,000 to immigrant Filipino healthcare workers in California who claimed they endured “harassment and humiliation” from coworkers and management, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.  Nurses involved in the case, which was filed in 2010 against Delano Regional Medical Center in Kern County, Calif., alleged that the hospital forbade them from speaking any language other than English in public spaces such as hallways and break rooms. The nurses also reported being followed by other employees, who would harass them and mock their accents.  One employee claimed that a former hospital executive threatened the nurses with suspension or termination if they were caught speaking their native language.

According to the Los Angeles Times article, Delano Regional Medical Center employs healthcare workers who speak several other languages, including Spanish, Hindi, and Bengali, yet singled out Filipino employees. The terms of the settlement require the hospital to conduct anti-discrimination training and to enforce reporting and handling of discrimination complaints, which will be reviewed by an outside monitor. The hospital denies the claims and stated that it settled the lawsuit to avoid wasting financial resources.

Just a few weeks ago, The Leaders’ Lounge reported on an initiative at George Washington University to attract a more diverse group of students to the nursing profession. We followed up with a poll on StrategiesforNurseManagers.com asking readers how diverse they consider their organizations. Of those who responded, 34% said their staff is not very diverse and 40% replied that their staff is somewhat diverse.  Only 26% of respondents consider their staff to be very diverse.

It seems that establishing a staff that reflects the diverse patient population is an issue that many organizations face, and the lawsuit in California shows that it is not enough to simply attract nurses from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. Employees and leaders alike must receive diversity training, and issues of discrimination / harassment should not be tolerated. A workforce that is divided by prejudice and hostility is a workforce that fails to work together to meet goals for patient safety and high quality healthcare.

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Filed Under: nurse educationnurse-to-nurse hostility

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About the Author: Katrina Gravel is an editor for the Education division of HCPro.

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