Hospital Refused to Accommodate Nurse's Disability, Refused to Reassign, Then Terminated Her, Federal Agency Charged
TAMPA, Fla. - Saint Joseph's Hospital, part of the BayCare Health System, the second-largest private employer in the Tampa Bay area, violated federal anti-discrimination law when it refused to accommodate a nurse's request for a reasonable accommodation based on a disability, refused to reassign her to a vacant position for which she was qualified and then fired her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed October 23, 2013.
According to the EEOC's suit, a veteran nurse, who worked in the hospital's psychiatric department for approximately 21 years, had been using a walking cane without incident for about two years when the hospital decided that she could no longer use it because, it said, the cane was unsafe and could be used as a weapon. A hospital official told her that, if she wanted to continue working, she would have to compete for a new position within the BayCare Health System with all other non-disabled applicants. The hospital failed its legal obligation to engage in the interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to continue working in the Psychiatric Department. The hospital also failed to reassign her to vacant positions outside of the department for which she was qualified, and then terminated her within 30 days of revoking her use of the cane, when she was not hired for an advertised position.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees' and applicants' disabilities as long as it causes no undue hardship. The EEOC filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida (Civil Action No.: 8:13-CV-2723-T-30TGW) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks injunctive relief to prevent any further discriminatory practices, as well as back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.
"Employers are required by federal law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees' disabilities where they pose no undue hardship on the employer, including reassigning employees to vacant positions for which they are qualified," said Robert Weisberg, Regional Attorney for the EEOC's Miami District Office.
Miami District Director Malcolm Medley added, "Investigating allegations of disability discrimination is one of the enforcement priorities for this agency. The EEOC is committed to enforcing the rights of qualified employees with disabilities and will enforce the law against employers who fail to properly engage in the interactive process."
The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.