Pioneer Health Services to Pay $85,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit
Mississippi Health Care Company Illegally Fired Employee After She Underwent Liver Transplant Surgery, Federal Agency Charged
Pioneer Health Services, Inc., a Mississippi corporation that provides inpatient and outpatient health care services, has agreed to pay $85,000 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, in July 2012, Joyce Dumas, who worked for Pioneer as a social worker/therapist, became ill and was hospitalized due to liver failure. She requested leave while she underwent liver transplant surgery, and Pioneer approved the request. After successful transplant surgery on Aug. 2, 2012, she was slated to return to work in mid-September. However, when Dumas requested several weeks additional leave to recover from the surgery, Pioneer denied the request and subsequently fired her because she had exhausted her company-approved leave. Further, Pioneer refused to re-hire Dumas for an available social worker/therapist position several months later.
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. 1:17-cv-00016-GHD-DAS) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Aberdeen Division on Feb. 3, 2017 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to monetary relief, the five-year consent decree settling the suit requires Pioneer to provide training to its employees on its obligations under the ADA and review its anti-discrimination policies and modify them if necessary, and enjoins the company from engaging in any discrimination or retaliation because of disability in the future. The decree also requires Pioneer to assign a senior company official, trained in the requirements of the ADA, the responsibility of providing written recommendations to Pioneer's management before terminating any employee based on his or her actual, perceived, or record of a physical or mental impairment, or for exhaustion of medical leave.
"The intersection of the ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act will continue to be an area of focus for the EEOC," said Delner Franklin-Thomas, the EEOC's Birmingham District director who oversaw the agency's investigation. "We are pleased that Pioneer has agreed to implement training and revise its anti-discrimination policies."
Marsha L. Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC's Birmingham District Office, added, "Employers should understand that they cannot simply fire an employee with a disability once she has exhausted her allotted 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Rather, the ADA requires the employer to determine whether that employee can be accommodated by a brief extension of leave that would enable the employee to return to work."
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.