ACLU of Rhode Island Criticizes School Committee for Refusing to Hire a Male Nurse

August 26, 2004 12:00 am

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PORTSMOUTH, RI--The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island announced today that it has called on the Portsmouth School Committee to reverse its decision to deny a male applicant a position as a middle school nurse based solely on his gender.

In a letter sent yesterday to school committee members, ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown said that employment discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited under both state and federal law and that "the decision not to hire the applicant appears to be based on egregiously stereotypical notions about male nurses, and was made without regard to less restrictive alternatives readily available for dealing with any legitimate privacy concerns that might arise."

The school committee made its decision on Tuesday evening after some parents expressed concerns over the privacy and modesty of young girls. However, the ACLU argued that those concerns were based on inappropriate stereotypes and cannot serve as an excuse for employment discrimination.

"There is no legitimate basis in this context for treating a male nurse any differently than a male doctor," Brown said in the letter. "Would the school committee refuse to hire or allow a male doctor to treat a female student because of these modesty concerns? We expect not. We are further hard-pressed to understand why no similar concerns are harbored about the privacy concerns of male students who are required to be seen by a female nurse. After all, male middle school students, like females, have their own modesty concerns. It seems clear to us that much of the uneasiness that may have been expressed stems from the relative, but quickly diminishing, novelty of male nurses. But the fact that the use of male nurses (like female doctors) is relatively new cannot justify discriminatory hiring practices."

The ACLU also said that even if such concerns were legitimate, they would still not justify taking the extreme step of making a school job completely off-limits to individuals of one particular sex.

"As the Superintendent apparently pointed out at the meeting, there are less restrictive alternatives available for schools to deal with particular situations where assistance from an adult of the opposite sex might be necessary, such as the use of guidance counselors," Brown said.

The ACLU concluded its letter by arguing that failure to hire the male candidate "is not only legally questionable, but also an unfortunate perpetuation of stereotypes that deserve no place in the public school setting."

The ACLU favorably resolved a similar situation that occurred in East Providence four years ago. In that case, the school district advertised for a male applicant to fill an open position in a special education class, claiming that a man was needed for the post since some of the male students in the classroom needed help when going to the bathroom. The school district ultimately agreed with the ACLU that there were ways to handle such situations without denying employment to the most qualified individual because of their gender.

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