Hospital Fires Disabled Therapist (Not Another Such Case!)

Not again!

Bethesda Naval Hospital, Patients, Men

It is “ironic when a hospital, which is dedicated to caring for the health of its patients, ignores the medical concerns of an employee, refuses to even discuss providing a needed workplace modification, and instead fires him because of his disability.”

As you know, I have said this often – in the form of exhorting medical personnel and facilities not to do anything to attract the attention of the EEOC, which – I have repeatedly documented — would like nothing better than to nail healthcare facilities for disability discrimination.

Red heart caught in a trap

But the quote up top was not mine – it was from Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., the EEOC district director of the Philadelphia District Office, who made it in announcing a new EEOC lawsuit against a Maryland hospital. And it confirms what I always say – that the EEOC loves to point out the “irony” of those dedicated to the caring professions allegedly discriminating against disabled employees.

The suit alleges that a long tenured respiratory therapist received a kidney transplant because of renal failure, and therefore had to take medication “which compromises his immune system and increases his risk of infection.” He asked for an accommodation called a “work-around” which would have “excused him from working in negative pressure rooms, which are isolation rooms with a mechanical ventilation system designed to trap infectious airborne materials.” Although the hospital provides this accommodation to pregnant employees, at some point (the EEOC press release is not quite clear about this), it refused his request and fired him.

Healthcare employers – please don’t make me repeat this again — certainly not in light of the EEOC’s quote above:

I did a post awhile ago entitled “Two More ADA Lawsuits Filed By The EEOC: Guess Which Companies Got Sued?” The title referred to my frequent posts asking why the EEOC seemed to target health care companies for lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

I asked “What is it about health and medical care facilities that brings down the heavy hand of the EEOC so often, alleging ADA and pregnancy discrimination? Is it that the helping profession somehow has an innate bias against the disabled and against pregnant women, and discriminates more than other employers?”

“Or, could it be,” I wondered, “that the EEOC sees such health care folks as fat, juicy targets — for example, accusing the helping profession, which is there to treat the sick, disabled and pregnant, of disability discrimination surely attracts the inevitable sanctimonious media attention. Alleging that doctors discriminate on the basis of disability against the very folks that they are there to minister is sure to bolster a the EEOC’s image.”

Takeaway:  Those employers who have not read this blog before take heed!

You must engage with a requesting employee in an interactive process to seek a reasonable accommodation.   If you don’t, especially if you are a heath care or medical facility, you are inviting EEOC intervention, if not taunting the EEOC to target you.  The EEOC may come a knockin’ on your door if you do not comply with the ADA!

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]