Health System Rescinded Job Offers When It Learned Applicants Were Disabled, Federal Agency Charges
MINNEAPOLIS - Aurora Health Care, a health system operating in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, violated federal disability discrimination law by rescinding employment offers to two job applicants after it learned they had disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the allegations in the EEOC's lawsuit, Aurora extended job offers to Kelly Beckwith and Charlene Helms, conditioned on completion of a medical examination. Although both Beckwith and Helms were able to perform the essential functions of the jobs they had been offered, both disclosed disabling health conditions during their medical examinations: Beckwith suffers from multiple sclerosis and Helms from carpal tunnel disorder. Following the medical examinations, Aurora rescinded its offers to the two, claiming they had failed to disclose their health conditions.
John Rowe, director of the federal agency's Chicago District, said that in the EEOC's pre-suit administrative investigation, Aurora contended that Beckwith failed to disclose a medication she was prescribed for MS treatment, but Beckwith had not been having MS symptoms and had not been taking the medication. Further, Aurora learned about the prescription by accessing Beckwith's private, patient records. According to Aurora, it had a policy of accessing patient records for job applicants undergoing medical examinations, even though the applicants were not being seen for treatment.
With respect to Helms, Aurora contended she did not disclose that she had surgery for carpal tunnel disorder, yet documents received during the investigation show disclosure of the condition and clearly reference the surgery.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on disabilities. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Aurora Health Care, Inc.; Civil Action No. 2:12-cv-00984), was brought only after the agency first attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer through the EEOC's conciliation process. In this case, the EEOC is seeking injunctive relief barring discrimination and prohibiting Aurora's practice of reviewing job applicant's patient medical records, and will seek back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Beckwith and Helms.
"Federal law allows employers to require applicants to undergo a medical examination once an offer has been made," said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District. "But they can't use that examination to discriminate against applicants with disabilities. It appears - and we intend to prove in court - that Aurora found out these two applicants had health conditions and then claimed the two failed to disclose their conditions to justify Aurora's underlying disability discrimination."
Jean Kamp, the Chicago District's associate regional attorney, added that "the EEOC finds Aurora's policy of digging in a job applicant's patient records particularly disturbing. Job applicants who undergo a medical examination in order to get work aren't seeking treatment from their own doctor. Aurora never should have accessed their patient records in this context."
According to the company's website (www.aurorahealthcare.org), Aurora is a private, not-for-profit healthcare provider that operates 15 hospitals and 185
clinics, with $4.3 billion in annual revenue.
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The EEOC's legal team in its Minneapolis and Milwaukee Area Offices will conduct this litigation under the management of the agency's Chicago District Office.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.