Geriatric Care "Giant" versus Pregnant Nurse: Guess Who Won?

Now, why would a health care company discriminate against a pregnant or disabled employee? Seems to contradict everything that a health care provider is supposed to stand for.

Now, why would a health care company discriminate against a pregnant or disabled employee? Seems to contradict everything that a health care provider is supposed to stand for.

Seems also to be self-destructive, as I have demonstrated countless times here: the EEOC has no easier target than a health care or medical provider who is alleged to have violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), and seems therefore to zero in on such cases as often as possible.

May I remind you of the Dallas home healthcare company which agreed to pay $25,000 for allegedly discriminating against an employee with bipolar disorder by firing her when she requested leave to see her health care provider.

The EEOC regional attorney stated then:

“We would expect that employers in the health care field would be keenly aware of the importance of supporting the medical needs of their employees by allowing reasonable time that may be required for treatment.”

Ouch.

Yet, according to a new EEOC press release, a geriatric care “giant” in Washington State “refused to accommodate [a CNA, or Certified Nursing Assistant’s] request not to lift anything heavier than 15 lbs. for the last part of her pregnancy,” while allowing “light duty to employees injured on the job.”

That’s right – light duty to those injured but not for those pregnant.

The nurse was placed on involuntary, unpaid leave, and was told “to reapply for a CNA job once she was ready to return to unrestricted duty, which she understood to mean that she was fired.”

The geriatric care “giant” just agreed to pay $170,000 to the nurse to settle the lawsuit which the EEOC filed.

Ouch, again.

The EEOC noted that:

“Denying light duty to a pregnant employee while providing it to similarly-abled non-pregnant employees may violate Title VII,” and an EEOC attorney said that “An employer may not reject an employee’s request for pregnancy-related work restrictions if the same employer is granting the light duty request of a non-pregnant employee.”

Takeaway

As I noted many times before, you must engage in an interactive process with a requesting employee who is pregnant or who has a disability to seek a reasonable accommodation that is not unduly burdensome to you.

It isn’t that difficult and usually not particularly expensive to arrive at a “reasonable accommodation” – at least compared to the cost of litigation and settlement.

And if you are a heath care or medical facility or provider, be aware – be very aware – that if you fail to do this you are inviting – if not daring – the EEOC to target you!

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Richard Cohen

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]