Health Care System Unlawfully Fired Employee Because of Vision/Hearing Impairment and to Punish Her for Seeking Accommodation, Federal Agency Charged
BALTIMORE - Upper Chesapeake Health System, Inc., a leading health care provider in northeastern Maryland, will pay $180,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle an EEOC disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Deborah Ropiski consistently received good performance evaluations and positive patient feedback during her 19 years of employment with the Upper Chesapeake Health System. The EEOC charged that the health care system failed to reassign Ropiski as a reasonable accommodation after it removed her from her position as a pulmonary function technologist at its Bel Air, Md., medical center based on its perception that her disability, Usher's syndrome, interfered with her ability to do her job. Usher's syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by varying levels of vision and hearing loss. According to the lawsuit, Upper Chesapeake Health System terminated Ropiski because of her disability and in retaliation for her requests for accommodations.
The EEOC also charged that the health care system later failed to rehire Ropiski into a vacant position for which she was qualified because of her disability and in retaliation for her filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, including reassignment to a vacant position, unless the employer can prove it would be an undue hardship. The ADA also prohibits employers from terminating or failing to hire an employee based on disability or retaliating against an employee because she requested a reasonable accommodation or filed a discrimination charge. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Upper Chesapeake Health System, Inc., Civil Action No. 13-cv-02846 (ELH)) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the $180,000 in monetary relief to Ropiski, the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins Upper Chesapeake Health System from future discriminating on the basis of disability or engaging in retaliation in violation of the ADA. The health care system will implement and disseminate to all employees an ADA reasonable accommodation policy and will provide training on the ADA and its requirement to provide reasonable accommodations, including reassignment. Upper Chesapeake Health System will provide a positive letter of reference for Ropiski and post a remedial notice.
"This is yet another case we brought involving a claim that an employer in the health care field refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability," said EEOC Philadelphia district director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "A health care provider should especially be sensitive to employees with disabilities and cognizant of their needs and rights. Fear and misconceptions about an employee's disability do not excuse any employer from providing a reasonable accommodation."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "This is a meaningful settlement because in addition to providing just compensation to Ms. Ropiski, the decree contains significant injunctive relief and other remedial measures designed to ensure that no one at this health care system will be discriminated against or denied a reasonable accommodation in the future."
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.