A Chicago mother sued a local hospital for racial discrimination after two doctors accused the woman of abusing her ten-month-old son while filing a child abuse report against her.
Jillian Robinson, 36, filed the lawsuit against Advocate Christ Medical Center on April 20 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, claiming physicians accused her of abusing the child because of her skin color, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Advocate Christ “and its staff made false assumptions about Ms. Robinson based on her race,” according to the complaint. “Based solely on those assumptions and before conducting a medical examination to confirm (Advocate Christ) and its staff jumped to the conclusion that the mark was an intentionally inflicted injury by Ms. Robinson and initiated complaint proceedings against her with DCFS.”
On Tuesday, Advocate Christ Medical Center issued a written statement, “Our top priority is to provide the safest, highest quality and equitable care to every patient. We take all concerns seriously and are thoroughly reviewing the complaint, which we just recently received.”
The lawsuit cited two doctors at the medical center involved in the case.
In April 2021, Robinson had taken her son to the medical center after noticing a strange mark on his outer ear. After speaking with a nurse at the hospital where she usually receives care, the nurse advised her to take him to a clinic to be examined. Instead, Robinson decided to take her infant son to OSF Little Company of Mary Medical Center, where she was told to leave the mark alone and they could go home, according to the lawsuit.
Later that week, Robinson noticed the mark wasn’t healing, and it started getting irritated. During a telehealth appointment with her pediatric center, they suggested that Robinson take her son to a hospital, the complaint said.
The concerned mother went to Advocate Christ on April 28, where doctors asked her how her son had gotten the mark. When she told the physicians she didn’t know, they conducted a physical exam of the child, noting in the medical record that the mark appeared to be a hematoma, a bruise that is likely from an injury. In the report, doctors wrote that it was “suspicious for a pinching of the ear, nonaccidental trauma,” the lawsuit stated.
The doctors reported the incident to the Department of Children and Family Services as “a suspected case of child abuse by Ms. Robinson,” the suit read.
Then, they performed several tests such as a head CT and bone scan to “support their presumption of child abuse after making a DCFS report,” the lawsuit alleged.
After the child protection agency was involved, doctors decided to make a minor incision into the mark in an attempt to drain it. However, they found no drainage that would be expected with hematoma, the complaint said.
One staff member informed Robinson how Black families are treated differently than white families when their children are examined for bruises, the lawsuit read. Robinson also stated that staff members asked her a series of questions about her son’s curly hair and the father’s background.
“Ms. Robinson, who is darker-skinned than her son, experienced these comments as not only racist and offensive but also as micro-aggressive challenges to her parentage of her child,” the lawsuit alleged.
Though the bruise turned out to be a birthmark, DCFS told Robinson that she would need to implement a “safety plan” by placing the child with a different family member, or he would have to go into foster care. A pediatrician advised Robinson to put the child in foster care for a few days during the pending investigation.
“To say I was blindsided is an understatement,” Robinson told the outlet. “I was made to feel like I was crazy. Everything that was being said to me was against rational, logical thought, from my point of view.”
After Robinson refused, an ear, nose, and throat doctor who examined her son at the hospital supported her decision and said that he would contact DCFS about the situation. Later that day, the state agency secured a safety plan, and Robinson was able to stay with her son under supervision at her uncle’s house.
They stayed with him for a week until the safety plan ended on May 6.
Robinson is represented by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the law firm Burke, Warren, MacKay, & Serritella P.C., which provides pro bono services. The committee is a nonprofit organization comprised of civil rights lawyers and advocates working on racial equity and economic opportunity issues.
The lawsuit stated that Robinson’s experience is an ongoing issue many Black Americans face in health care and child welfare services. In October, the committee and Legal Aid of Chicago also filed a complaint against the hospital and DCFS with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, said Beatriz Diaz-Pollack, senior counsel with the committee.
“It is, unfortunately, representative of systemic issues,” Diaz-Pollack said. “This is both a case where a Black mother and her son were individually harmed, and we’re seeking redress for her in her individual capacity, but also based on what we’ve learned about biases in the health care system, this case has the potential to make a positive impact.”
In the lawsuit, Robinson seeks damages and an order requiring Advocate Christ to “implement and require adherence to policies, procedures and training to prevent racially biased and/or racially motivated medical treatment and reporting to DCFS and other government agencies.”
“How do you know a system is broken? How do you know things just aren’t right? How do you know an injustice has happened?” Robinson said. “In the moment, you don’t really think those things. In the moment, you just panic. But once those moments passed and I had a moment to think, I knew I couldn’t just let that stand.”