Employee's Firing Was Because of Disabilities, Federal Agency Charged
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Paloma Blanca Health Care Associates, LLC, d/b/a Paloma Blanca Health and Rehabilitation, which owns and operates a health and rehabilitation center in Albuquerque, has agreed to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $145,000 and other relief, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, EEOC v. Paloma Blanca Health Care Associates, LLC, d/b/a Paloma Blanca Health and Rehabilitation, 14-CV-0235 JCH/SCY, Paloma Blanca refused to reasonably accommodate Doug Johnson's disabilities. The company then fired him because of his medical conditions and/or because he requested the reasonable accommodations he needed.
In January, 2008, Paloma Blanca hired Johnson as a driver in its Paloma Blanca Health & Rehab Center in Albuquerque. As a driver, Johnson drove a van and took nursing home patients to medical appointments. Approximately two years later, Paloma Blanca began to require Johnson to perform the duties of the central supply clerk position in addition to his regular driving duties. In this capacity, Johnson ordered medicines, diapers and any items the facility needed (with the exception of food items). In November of 2011, Johnson had a heart attack and was also diagnosed with other medical conditions, including unstable angina, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus and neuropathy. Johnson requested a reasonable accommodation for his disabilities, in the form of a request for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Paloma Blanca approved 12 weeks of FMLA leave for Johnson and notified him of their decision by letter dated Nov. 28, 2011.
After only five weeks of FMLA leave, in a letter dated Jan. 5, 2012, Paloma Blanca notified Johnson that it had eliminated his position and were laying him off due to a "reduction in force" effective Dec. 31, 2011. However, no other employees were subjected to a reduction in force at that time, the EEOC said, and there were no department- or facility-wide reductions in force during December 2011.
Disability discrimination, including the failure to make reasonable accommodation for disabilities, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the substantial monetary relief, the decree requires Paloma Blanca to expunge from Johnson's personnel file any references to the allegations of discrimination, Johnson's participation in the lawsuit or his disabilities. It also provides an injunction against any future employment practices that discriminate or retaliate and requires Paloma Blanca to review and distribute to employees its policies regarding disability discrimination and retaliation. The company also agreed to provide its employees with training regarding disability discrimination and procedures for handling requests for reasonable accommodation. Finally, Paloma Blanca will post a notice emphasizing the company's equal employment opportunity policy and reaffirming its commitment to providing reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants with disabilities.
"Employers must address employee requests for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities and must assure that employment decisions are not based on them," said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. "They must comply with federal law or be subjected to the EEOC's vigorous enforcement of the rights of the disabled to fair treatment under the law. One would hope that a health and rehab center in particular would be more sensitive and attentive to the rights and needs of employees with medical conditions."
EEOC Albuquerque Area Director Derick L. Newton added, "We are pleased that this employer is now taking appropriate steps to assure that reasonable accommodation procedures are in place and publicized in the workplace. We are also very pleased that we could assist Doug Johnson to resolve this matter at a time when he was most vulnerable."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.