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Hospital granted dad's request: no black nurses, lawsuit says

An African-American nurse is suing a Michigan hospital after she says staff there agreed to a swastika-tattooed father’s request that no black nurses care for his new baby.

Tonya Battle, 49, sued the board of hospital managers of Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Mich., and Mary Osika, a nurse manager, on discrimination grounds after Battle said she was reassigned to accommodate the father’s request.

“I didn’t even know how to react,” Battle told the Detroit Free Press, which first reported the story.

Battle is a neonatal intensive care nurse who has worked at the 443-bed public teaching hospital for nearly 25 years. She said she was caring for infants as usual on Oct. 31, 2012 when the infant’s father asked to speak to her supervisor, according to a complaint filed in the Genessee County circuit court.

The father told the charge nurse “he did not want any African Americans taking care of his baby,” the complaint said. While making that statement, he pulled up his sleeve and showed a tattoo “believed to be a swastika of some kind.”

Instead of denying the request, the complaint said, the charge nurse called Osika, who advised her to reassign the baby to another nurse.

“Plaintiff was reassigned on or about Oct. 31, 2012 because she is African-American,” the complaint said. “Plaintiff was shocked, offended and in disbelief that she was so egregiously discriminated against based on her race and re-assigned.”

The next day, the complaint alleged, Osika told staff members the request would be honored. When Battle returned to work on Nov. 2, 2012, the hospital posted a notice on an assignment clipboard that read: “No African-0American nurse to take care of baby.”

No black nurses were assigned to care for the baby for the following month, despite notice from hospital lawyers that the notice should be removed and that the father’s request would not continue to be granted, the complaint alleged.

Hospital officials, however, said that while the father’s request was “initially evaluated,” he was then told it could not be granted.

In a statement posted online, Melany Gavulic, president and chief executive of Hurley Medical Center said the man’s swastika tattoo created “anger and outrage in our staff.”

“This resulted in concern by supervisors for the safety of the staff,” she wrote.

Battle filed discrimination charges on Dec. 11, 2012, with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Battle’s lawsuit seeks punitive damages. Neither Battle nor her lawyer could immediately be reached by NBC News. 

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