Federal Agency Charges Mississippi Health Care Center Fired Nurse Because of Her Epilepsy
GULFPORT, Miss. -- LHC Group, a national health care company, violated federal law by discriminating against a field nurse because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC alleged that LHC Group, doing business as Gulf Coast Homecare in Picayune, Miss., denied Kristy M. Sones a reasonable accommodation and then fired her because of her epilepsy. LHC provides home care, hospice, telehealth, private duty and long-term acute care through home and facility-based services.
The EEOC alleged that Sones informed Gulf Coast Branch Manager Jennifer Taggard that she had a history of one seizure prior to being hired as a field nurse in 2006. Sones had annual physicals during her employment, disclosed her epilepsy and the medications she was taking to her employer. After performing successfully as a field nurse, Sones was promoted to a team leader position in March 2009.
Two months later, Sones experienced a seizure at work, her first since 2005. She was subsequently seen by her physician, who gave her new medication and released her to return to work. Less than a month after Sones returned to work, Gulf Coast fired her on June 24, 2009, claiming that her seizures made her a “liability” to the company. Sones’ health insurance was also immediately terminated.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination because of their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. LHC Group Inc., Case No. 1:11-cv-00355-LG-JMR) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi after an investigation was completed by the EEOC’s Mobile Local Office and after the agency first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
“This lawsuit should remind employers that the ADA and its amendments prohibit them from making employment decisions based on negative stereotypes or fears about individuals with disabilities,” said EEOC District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas. “The Commission is committed to full enforcement of the ADA.”
EEOC Regional Attorney C. Emanuel Smith added, “This case is a perfect example of a valuable employee being discarded after one manifestation of her disability, regardless of her ability to do the job. This type of discrimination is a violation of federal law.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Birmingham District has jurisdiction over Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.