Hospital Fired Employees After 12 Weeks of Leave, Federal Agency Says
TRENTON, N.J. --- Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS), which operates an inpatient hospital and several outpatient medical facilities, will pay $1,350,000 and will undertake significant remedial measures to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's suit alleged that PHCS's fixed leave policy failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the EEOC, since PHCS's leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employee leaves were limited to a maximum of 12 weeks. PHCS's policy meant that employees who were not eligible for FMLA leave were fired after being absent for a short time, and many more were fired once they were out more than 12 weeks.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Princeton HealthCare System, Civil Action No.:3:10-cv-04126) in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the consent decree settling the suit, approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert, PHCS is prohibited from having a blanket policy that limits the amount of leave time an employee covered by the ADA may take. PHCS must instead engage in an interactive process with covered employees, including employees with a disability related to pregnancy, when deciding how much leave is needed. In addition, PHCS can no longer require employees returning from disability leave to present a fitness for duty certification stating that they are able to return to work without any restrictions. PHCS also agreed that it will not subject employees to progressive discipline for ADA-related absences, and will provide training on the ADA to its workforce.
The EEOC will monitor PHCS's compliance with the decree over the next four years and will distribute the $1.35 million to employees who were unlawfully terminated under PHCS's former policy.
"This is the latest in a series of cases challenging unlawful leave policies, and the relief obtained here furthers the EEOC's efforts to reinvigorate the Americans with Disabilities Act following the 2008 amendments," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "While the EEOC is always careful and cautious before resorting to litigation, our efforts here should encourage employers to voluntarily comply with the ADA."
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Rosemary DiSavino said, "Employers must understand that fixed leave policies, by definition, limit the opportunity for the employee and employer to engage in the interactive process and determine whether leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the federal law."
Robert D. Rose, Regional Attorney of EEOC's New York District Office, added, "This case should send a clear message that a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation under the law. Policies that limit the amount of leave, even if they comply with other laws, violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit."
Other significant resolutions of EEOC cases involving leave and attendance policies include Interstate Distributor, ($4.85 million nationwide resolution challenging maximum 12-week leave policy), Supervalu ($3.2 million resolution challenging termination of approximately 1,000 employees at the end of medical leave), Sears ($6.2 million resolution challenging automatic termination policy and failure to accommodate employees injured at work) and Verizon ($20 million nationwide resolution challenging "no fault" attendance policy).
Addressing emerging and developing issues under the ADA is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov. The New York District Office oversees New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and most of New Jersey.