Increased EEOC Enforcement in the Healthcare Industry
The EEOC’s enforcement efforts in the healthcare industry show no sign of slowing. In the first two weeks of October 2019 alone, the EEOC settled with a medical practice for sex discrimination and sued a hospital for disability discrimination.
Last month, the EEOC sued Northern Arizona Orthopedics (“NAO”) alleging that NAO demonstrated a preference for hiring women over male candidates. Importantly, the EEOC also alleged that NAO retaliated against a male applicant who complained about the discrimination. This is significant because many employers overlook the fact that discrimination and retaliation claims can be brought, in certain circumstances, by nonemployees (i.e. candidates and applicants).
Earlier this month, NAO agreed to settle the suit. The settlement requires NAO to pay a total of $165,000 and issue an apology. NAO must review and revise its EEO polices, hiring policies, and retrain its employees on anti-discrimination laws. More information can be found in the EEOC’s press release on the settlement, available here: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/10-7-19.cfm.
Also earlier this month, the EEOC sued Tennova Healthcare-Clarksville, which operates a hospital in Clarksville, Tennessee. The EEOC alleges that a registered nurse injured her knee on the job, requiring surgery. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the nurse was placed on permanent restrictions of intermittent sedentary activity for a third of the day. The EEOC alleges that the hospital provided the nurse with ten days to find a non-nursing job before it would fire her.
The nurse applied to vacant jobs she was qualified for, but the hospital failed to place her as a reasonable accommodation. When she could not find a new position within the hospital, the hospital fired the nurse. The hospital later offered the nurse a job paying only one third of the nurse’s previous salary. The EEOC alleges that the hospital’s conduct and treatment of the nurse violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees based on a disability. In this lawsuit, the alleged discriminatory act is the hospital’s denial of a reasonable accommodation. More information can be found in the EEOC’s press release on the lawsuit, available here: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/10-15-19b.cfm.
This flurry of EEOC activity demonstrates that the EEOC’s efforts to investigate and litigate alleged discriminatory conduct by healthcare providers are alive and well, and healthcare providers should take extreme care to ensure compliance with federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.