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Nursing Center Sued by EEOC for Pregnancy and Disability Discrimination

NHC Healthcare/Clinton, LLC 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, violated federal law when it failed to accommodate a pregnant employee and subsequently fired her because of her pregnancy and her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed last week.

According to the EEOC's complaint, around Feb. 21, 2002, NHC Healthcare hired Tonya Aria as a full-time licensed practical nurse (LPN) 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 written out of three days' work in early January 2013. On Jan. 15, Aria was fired by the director of nursing because of absences related to her pregnancy and PSVT. The EEOC contends that NHC Healthcare refused to accommodate Aria by allowing her medical leave, and subsequently fired 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 disabled employees 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. The 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. The EEOC seeks back pay as well as compensatory damages and punitive damages for Aria. The EEOC also seeks injunctive relief.

"Federal laws protect employees who are pregnant as well as those who have a disability," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "In this case, Ms. Aria had a pre-existing disability and was pregnant when the events alleged in EEOC's complaint occurred. However, employees who do not have a pre-existing disability, but who develop medical conditions that meet the ADA's definition of 'disability' as a result of becoming pregnant, are also protected from disability discrimination. Employers must be aware of this intersection between Title VII's pregnancy discrimination prohibition and the ADA."

One of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the Commission to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the intersection between the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at