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PRESS RELEASE
10-3-12

New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Pay $146K to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Hospital Punished or Shunned Employees and Applicants for Taking Prescribed Medications, Federal Agency Charged

WILMINGTON, N.C. - New Hanover Regional Medical Center will pay $146,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.  The EEOC had charged that the center violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by prohibiting applicants and employees from working if they were taking legally prescribed narcotic medications.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. New Hanover Regional Medical Center; Civil Action No. 7:09-CV-0085), Elizabeth Saunders, Mary Eubanks, Allison Burge and other similarly situated applicants and employees were denied hire or placed on leave by the medical center because they were taking prescribed narcotic medications.  The complaint alleged that such action was taken because New Hanover perceived persons taking narcotic medications as being disabled as defined by the ADA.  

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. 

In addition to the $146,000 in damages to be divided among the claimants, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires that New Hanover Regional Medical Center revise its alcohol and drug abuse policy, its post-employment offer medical assessment policy and its medical examination policy.  The company must also provide annual training to its managers and supervisors on the ADA and that ADA's prohibition against disability discrimination in the workplace.  New Hanover Regional Medical Center must also post an employee notice concerning the lawsuit and employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as provide periodic reports to the EEOC.  

"We hope this case reminds employers that they must conduct an individualized assessment of an applicant's or employee's ability to perform his or her specific job even when the applicant or employee is taking legally prescribed narcotic medication," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC's Raleigh Area Office where the charge was filed.  "Employers should never assume that every person taking a narcotic drug will suffer side effects."   

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the nation's laws prohibiting discrimination in employment.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.