Community Hospital Refused to Accommodate the Schedule of a Nurse with Diabetes, Federal Agency Charged
CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. – Hudson Valley Hospital Center, Inc., a community hospital bordering Peekskill, N.Y., will pay $142,500 to a former nurse to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2007, the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit (Civil Action No. 07-CV-83760), filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in White Plains, charged that the hospital discriminated against Glorianne Romano on the basis of her disability, Type I “brittle” diabetes, after she experienced a diabetic coma for which she was treated there. Specifically, the lawsuit charged that the hospital failed to grant Romano a reasonable accommodation to permit her to modify her part-time work schedule as an employee health nurse so that she would work three days in a row rather than alternate work days. Romano’s treating doctor submitted documentation stating that she needed a more consistent schedule to enable her to gain better control over her diabetes.
Although the hospital initially granted the request for schedule modification, and Romano had previously worked a similar schedule without problems, the EEOC said, the hospital with¬drew the schedule accommodation, stating that it unduly disrupted the hospital’s business operations. The EEOC charged that the hospital endangered Romano’s physical health and effectively terminated her employment by refusing to accommodate her request to work the modified part-time schedule.
The EEOC said that the hospital’s failure to grant a reasonable accommodation, and the resulting termination of Romano’s employment, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court.
“This problem, like so many others, could have been avoided if this employer had simply fulfilled its legal obligation to work with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru.
In addition to the $142,500 in back pay and compensatory damages for Romano and the payment of attorneys’ fees to her private attorney, the 26-month consent decree enjoins Hudson Valley Hospital from engaging in further disability discrimination or retaliation. It also provides for maintenance and distribution of procedures for responding to accommodation requests; anti-discrimination training for employees, managers, and the hospital’s human resources department; monitoring and reporting; and for the posting of a notice about EEOC and the lawsuit. The consent decree has been submitted to the district court judge for approval.
“Employers must recognize that the ADA requires them to provide adjustments or modifications to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities, unless doing so would be an undue hardship, such as a significant difficulty or expense,” said Spencer Lewis, district director of the EEOC New York District Office. “Modified work schedules; a private area to test blood sugar levels or to take insulin; a place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal; breaks to eat or drink, take medication, or leave for treatment or training on managing diabetes – these are examples of the types of reasonable accommodations that might be appropriate for an employee with diabetes, depending on the circumstances.”
EEOC New York Regional Attorney Elizabeth Grossman added, “The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The EEOC intends to use its litigation authority to bring employers into compliance with the ADA if they do not comply voluntarily.”
The EEOC has a fact sheet on diabetes and disability discrimination law, available at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/diabetes.html.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.