River Region Medical Center to Pay $100,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit
Vicksburg Health Care Provider Fired 36-Year Employee Over Shoulder Surgery Recovery Issues, Federal Agency Charged
Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, dba River Region Medical Center, which provides inpatient and outpatient medical and surgical services in Vicksburg, Miss., and surrounding areas, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency recently announced.
According to the EEOC's suit, Beatrice Chambers, a former licensed practical nurse employed by River Region, sought and was approved for sick leave from work to have surgery on her shoulder. Shortly before her leave was to expire, Chambers requested, consistent with the advice of her physical therapist and physician, a reasonable accommodation of an extension of her leave, or to return to work on light duty. River Region refused Chambers' requests, refused to provide any accommodation, and failed to engage in any interactive process to try to reach a solution. According to the EEOC, River Region refused to place Chambers temporarily in an available light-duty position for which she was qualified, and then terminated her after 36 years of employment there.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability, unless the employer would suffer an undue hardship as a result. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Civil Action No. 5:13-cv-00189-KS-MTP) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Northern Division on Sept. 30, 2013 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. After the district court dismissed the case, the EEOC appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (EEOC v. Vicksburg Healthcare, L.L.C., No. 15-60764 (5th Cir. Oct. 12, 2016)). The case was settled after the Fifth Circuit reversed summary judgment and returned the case to the district court for trial.
In addition to monetary relief, the one-year consent decree settling the suit requires River Region to provide training to its employees on its obligations under the ADA, review its anti-discrimination policies and modify them if necessary, and enjoins the company from engaging in any discrimination or retaliation because of disability. The decree also requires River Region to post notices on its bulletin boards reaffirming to its employees its policy not to discriminate against employees with disabilities, and informing them of their right to contact the EEOC if they feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against.
After one year, the EEOC and River Region will confer with the court to determine whether River Region has complied with the decree's terms. The court will retain jurisdiction of the case for one year to ensure that River Region complies with the terms.
"Employers should know they violate federal law when they mandate that disabled employees can only return to work without work restrictions," said Marsha L. Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC's Birmingham District Office. "Employers also violate the law when they have inflexible policies restricting medical leave to 12 weeks as required by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers have a duty beyond the FMLA to provide unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation unless such an accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer."
Delner Franklin-Thomas, the EEOC's Birmingham District director who oversaw the agency's investigation, said, "We are pleased that this employer is now taking proper steps to assure that reasonable accommodation measures are in place and publicized to its employees."
The EEOC's Birmingham District Office has jurisdiction over Alabama, Mississippi (all but 17 counties in the northern part of Mississippi), and the Florida Panhandle.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.