Four Tops singer claims racist treatment at hospital

When Alexander Morris, a member of the Motown group The Four Tops, visited a Detroit-area Ascension hospital with chest pain and trouble breathing, he said the staff assumed he was mentally ill after he told them he was a famous singer. Instead of treating Morris, a white security guard told him to “sit his Black ass down” and he was placed in a straitjacket, Morris claims in a new lawsuit.

Morris is suing Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren, Michigan over his April 2023 treatment, alleging racial discrimination and false imprisonment, among other counts. The federal lawsuit, filed on Monday in the Eastern District of Michigan, names as defendants the hospital, a nurse, and a security guard who were involved in the incident.

In a statement, Ascension said it would not comment on pending litigation. “We remain committed to honoring human dignity and acting with integrity and compassion for all persons and the community,” the system said. “We do not condone racial discrimination of any kind.”

Morris described the experience as “terrifying” in a statement shared by his attorneys.

“I see all of these posts on social media like ‘driving while black,’ ‘walking while black,’ but I never imagined I would become a victim of ‘being sick while Black,’” Morris said. “The hospital never fired the security guard that told me to sit my Black ass down. Clearly they condone racism. I filed the lawsuit to hold the hospital accountable for the way I was treated and to protect the younger generations from racism in healthcare.”


The staff members named as defendants are security guard Greg Ciesielski and nurse Holly Jackson. The lawsuit does not mention that Ciesielski, the guard who allegedly made the racial slur, died in September 2023. A GoFundMe page for his family says Ciesielski suffered a ruptured aorta, leaving behind a wife and two adult children. Messages to his wife were not returned. Jackson could not be reached for comment. The ER physician who treated Morris isn’t named as a defendant.

Morris’ attorney, Jasmine Rand of Miami, Florida, said she did not know Ciesielski was deceased. If that’s the case, she said her team will sue his estate.

The Four Tops is a Grammy Award-nominated vocal group from Detroit that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. It’s known for hits like “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” At the time of the incident, The Four Tops was on a national tour with The Temptations and had recently performed at the Grammy Awards.

Morris has a significant history of heart problems, including the placement of stents and a defibrillator. He was transported to the emergency room on April 7, 2023, by ambulance and was already receiving oxygen. By the end of his hospitalization, he would be diagnosed with a heart attack that may require a heart transplant and pneumonia. He also suffered three seizures during his hospital stay, per the lawsuit.

When he got to the ER, Morris told a nurse and a security guard that he was a member of The Four Tops and that he had security concerns due to stalkers and fans. Morris’ complaint says shortly after check-in, he explained his medical history to an emergency room doctor and told him about his current symptoms.

When he shared his celebrity status, Morris claims that the ER doctor assumed he was mentally ill. He removed Morris’ oxygen and ordered a psychological evaluation “despite his clear symptoms of cardiac distress and significant medical history,” the complaint said.

As this was happening, Morris explained to the staff around him, including the nurse and security guard, that he had identification and could show them who he was. Instead, the security guard told him to “sit his Black ass down.” Morris’ lawsuit said the comment was made in front of at least four staff members, but none of them intervened to stop the mistreatment. To his knowledge, none of them reported the use of a racial slur to a supervisor.

“Moreover, none of the nursing staff thought to simply ask for Plaintiff’s identification,” the complaint says.

In the restraint jacket, Morris allegedly told staff he was having trouble breathing, and asked for the oxygen back. He said he was ignored. Morris then asked to have the jacket removed and for his belongings to be returned so he could leave and go to another hospital. His lawsuit says he was told he couldn’t leave. His medical condition declined. Several security guards were allegedly called to ensure he couldn’t leave.

Eventually, Morris’ wife showed up and saw what was happening. She told a security guard that he was actually a member of The Four Tops, but the guard allegedly left the restraints on and continued to deny Morris medical treatment. Finally, a nurse came to Morris’ side, and Morris asked if he could show her a video of him performing at the Grammy Awards. Realizing he was actually a member of the group, she told the doctor, who said he was canceling the psychological evaluation. Staff removed the straitjacket and placed Morris back on oxygen.

Morris’ lawsuit says he was restrained for about 90 minutes. He was offered a $25 Meijer gift card as an apology, which he declined.

In addition to racial discrimination and false imprisonment, Morris’ lawsuit alleges gross negligence, negligence, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This story has been updated with attempts to reach the staff members named in the lawsuit.


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