Hospital granted summary judgment in discrimination case

By Charmaine Little | May 9, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – A U.S. District Court ruled a deaf woman was not able to prove that the discrimination she claimed in her lawsuit was intentional when it granted the defendant a motion for summary judgment on April 22.

Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana agreed with St. Tammany Parish Hospital Service District No. 1 and granted its motion for summary judgment against Denise Rosario’s lawsuit. Rosario sued for equitable and monetary relief via Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Rosario said the hospital discriminated against her when it did not provide the necessary forms of communication during an emergency visit. She asked for a declaratory judgment, an injunction against the hospital and compensatory and nominal damages plus reasonable costs.

The court first looked at the request for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The court pointed out that not only did Rosario fail to challenge the motion, she also didn’t provide any evidence that she will go to the hospital again, or any other proof that she is at risk of being wronged by the hospital again. Considering this, the court granted the hospital summary judgment for this claim.

U.S. District Court Sarah S. Vance  

As for compensatory damages for statutes Rosario sued under, the court added that someone can only prevail for damages if they prove the discrimination was intentional. While there is no disagreement that Rosario has a disability, there was a dispute of whether the alleged discrimination against her was on purpose.  

“Here, plaintiff has not presented evidence showing that defendant intentionally discriminated against her in failing to provide adequate auxiliary services,” said the court. “Defendant’s initial unwillingness to secure an on-site interpreter, and [the] initial reliance on the VRI (a video conferencing system that has a capable interpreter on the other end) and written communication, is not alone evidence of deliberate indifference.”

It was also noted that the nurse assisting Rosario never blatantly ignored her request for an interpreter at the hospital. The nurse was just unable to fulfill it. The court also determined the nurse did not intentionally discriminate against Rosario when she gave her instructions for a prescription.

Rosario, who communicates via American Sign Language (ASL) and reads English at a second-grade level paid a visit to her obstetrician for a check-up. At the time, she was 32 weeks pregnant. Her physician informed her that her blood pressure was too high, so she was sent to St. Tammany Parish Hospital right away. 

Rosario said that when she got there she told hospital staff via a written note that she needed a sign language interpreter. It was noted that the hospital has an Administrative Policy and Procedures that says, “[w]ritten information, questions and instructions will be provided to ... hearing-impaired patients as warranted … if written communication is not sufficient and if the patient communicates in sign language, a qualified interpreter will be provided as needed either through the Language VRI services or the Deaf Action Center of Greater New Orleans.”

As for Rosario’s case, a nurse who treated Rosario used VRI to communicate with her. It was Rosario’s first time using this form of communication. The father of Rosario’s children was also in the room to assist. Rosario was said to be visibly upset that she couldn’t communicate with the interpreter on the other end of the VRI. 

When she was ultimately discharged, the nurse told Rosario to “CONITNUE these medications which have NOT changed,” and named four medications, including one for her blood pressure. It also detailed a new medication for an antibiotic and Rosario said she understood. She also testified that when she got home, she didn’t understand some of the words on the prescription. 

When she went back to the hospital for a previously scheduled appointment, it was determined that her blood pressure was still high as she was taking the wrong medicine. She later had a C-Section from which her daughter arrived successfully. Rosario then filed her lawsuit.

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