The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently announced a lawsuit against a major health care system for violation of federal law by discriminating against a registered nurse under their employment as well as a class of employees with disabilities.
According to the EEOC, the employer required employees that requested reasonable accommodations to compete for reassignment even with outside applicants even when reassignment was required to accommodate an employee’s disability. Further, the lawsuit alleges that the employer misrepresented the available job opportunities to prevent these employees from receiving accommodations in addition to retaliating against employees that requested reasonable accommodations as well as when employees complained about this discrimination.
The suit centers around a particular case as well in which the EEOC alleges that a registered nurse under the defendant’s employ had worked for the company for greater than 30 years and then requested leave due to a disability. The employer allegedly refused to hold the job until the employee could return and posted the job as a vacancy soon before the employee was cleared to return to work.
Upon returning, the EEOC claims that the employer refused to reinstate the employee and removed the job posting in order to prevent the employee from applying to it. The employee applied to multiple other vacant positions, but the employer insisted that the employee compete with any other applicants to these positions as well. The employer declined to simply reassign the employee to any of these alternative positions and proceeded to fire the employee. The suit alleges that the employer subjected other employees to similar discrimination and retaliation as well.
If found to be true, this conduct would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which forbids both discrimination toward those with disabilities and retaliation against those who oppose such conduct. Under the Act, employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations so long as they would not cause undue hardship to the employer.
The EEOC initially attempted to reach a settlement through its administrative conciliation process; however, after failing took the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The EEOC is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages, lost wages, and injunctive relief to prohibit the employer from future discrimination against applicants and employees.
As the EEOC clarified concerning this case, it is important to remember employers may not require an employee to compete with other applicants for a position as an accommodation. However, employers should also remember that they need not create a position or remove another employee from their current position in order to make an opening for an employee seeking accommodation.