Agency Alleges Employer Fired Longtime Employee with Vision Loss
REDDING, Calif. - Dignity Health, operating Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif., violated federal law when it refused to provide accommodations to allow a 10-year employee to return to work after she suffered a sudden loss of vision, and instead fired her by selectively applying a previously unused vision requirement, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's investigation, Alina Sorling worked as a food service technician in Mercy Medical Center's cafeteria for over ten years, performing tasks that included cashiering, grilling, cleaning and stocking. Surviving a severe illness that left her with vision loss, Sorling took an unpaid leave of absence to rehabilitate and learn non-visual techniques necessary for independent living.
After she successfully mastered everyday tasks, including cooking in her own kitchen and excellent proficiency with knife skills, Sorling sought to return to work and informed her employer of multiple accommodations that she or the California Department of Rehabilitation could provide to allow her to perform the duties of her job. Making unsupported assumptions about safety and her capacity, Dignity Health unilaterally rejected the suggestions, and cited a 20/40 vision requirement when they fired her in June 2015 - even though they had never administered a vision test in the ten years she had worked there.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees absent an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (CIV# 3:18-cv-04135) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC's lawsuit seeks lost wages and expenses, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief designed to prevent such discrimination in the future.
"After unexpectedly losing her vision and working incredibly hard to rehabilitate herself and learn new skills, Ms. Sorling was ready to go back to work without restrictions for an employer she had served loyally for over a decade," said William Tamayo, the EEOC's San Francisco District Office Director. "Instead of allowing her to demonstrate her abilities, Dignity Health excluded her due to fixed assumptions about her disability and limitations. Congress enacted the ADA to combat exactly this type of injustice."
EEOC Regional Attorney Roberta Steele noted, "Rather than relying on stereotypes, we should consider the successful examples of blind and low-vision individuals employed in food service workplaces such as through the California Business Enterprise Program, authorized and funded by federal legislation, and which trains and places blind and visually impaired participants in food service environments."
EEOC Trial Attorney Ami Sanghvi added, "The ADA requires a two-way interactive process between the employer and employee. Yet, without providing alternatives, Dignity Health rejected the multiple possibilities Ms. Sorling proposed. Even when she offered to bring in a paid analyst to assess the job site and recommend accommodations, Dignity Health turned her down, and instead chose to fire her based on her impairment and an unjustifiable vision standard. The EEOC is empowered and proud to fight for the rights of people like Alina Sorling."
According to company information, Dignity Health, headquartered in San Francisco, is the fifth-largest health system in the United States and comprises more than 60,000 caregivers and staff, delivering care to communities across 21 states. Dignity Health is the largest hospital provider in California and operates Mercy Medical Center in Redding, where Sorling worked for ten years before she was fired.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.