Court: Racial taunts? Tough

A patient making threats about being cared for by someone of a race he or she doesn't like is not a valid reason for a provider to assign staffing by race, a court has ruled.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that a psychiatric hospital's decision to block non-white employees from working a certain unit where a patient made threats against them violated state anti-discrimination laws.

Managers at Western State Hospital decided to assign only white employees to a part of the facility after a patient prone to “violent behaviors and delusions” made threats against a black caregiver.

The nurse in charge of staffing, however, refused to comply with the facility's directive, as well as with a subsequent order to send the worker “with the lightest skin.” 

Nine Western State employees filed a complaint against the facility after the 2011 events, claiming the race-based staffing was discriminatory against them. A trial court dismissed the complaint in 2015, but the state's highest court overturned the decision in late July, ruling that the patient's threats were not enough to staff based on race.

The case was returned to a lower court to determine damages for the employees involved. An attorney for the plaintiffs told the Centralia Chronicle, “It's taken a long time, but the court has finally vindicated their position.”