Nursing Center Failed to Provide Pregnant Employee with a Reasonable Accommodation and Subsequently Fired Her, Federal Agency Charged
GREENVILLE, S.C. - NHC Healthcare/Clinton, LLC, a licensed nursing center that provides a wide array of skilled nursing, therapeutic and rehabilitative services, has agreed to pay $50,000 and provide substantial injunctive relief to settle a pregnancy and disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the lawsuit, around Feb. 21, 2002, NHC Healthcare hired Tonya Aria as a full-time licensed practical nurse at its nursing center facility in Clinton, S.C. Aria suffers from paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), which, without medication, can cause rapid heart rate, numbness in the extremities, tunnel vision and occasional blackouts. Aria's PSVT is controlled by medication. NHC was aware of Aria's medical condition.
In mid-December 2012, Aria learned she was pregnant and stopped taking her PSVT medicine due to possible side effects to her unborn child. As a result, Aria's PSVT symptoms became uncontrolled. Additionally, Aria's normal pregnancy symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea, were exacerbated by her PSVT. Due to her medical condition and pregnancy, Aria was placed on bed rest and was out for three work days in early January 2013. On Jan. 15, Aria was fired by the director of nursing because of absences related to her pregnancy and PSVT. EEOC said NHC Healthcare refused to accommodate Aria by allowing her medical leave and subsequently firing her because of her disability and pregnancy.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide employees with disabilities with reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer. Additionally, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees due to their pregnancies. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenville Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. NHC Healthcare/Clinton, LLC, Civil Action No.6:15-CV-02584-MGL-KFM) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief to Aria, the company agreed to a two-year consent decree requiring it to adopt a policy prohibiting the company from taking any future adverse personnel actions against employees based on their disability or pregnancy status. The company also agreed to provide annual training to its managers, supervisors, HR specialists and employees on Title VII and the ADA and to make periodic reports to EEOC.
"This settlement should remind employers that federal law protects pregnant workers who develop a disability during pregnancy," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "All employers should implement effective anti-discrimination policies, procedures and training to ensure proper protections for pregnant employees."
Addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the intersection between the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.