Health Care Company Withdrew Job Offer to Applicant Because of Her MS, Federal Agency Charged
MILWAUKEE - Aurora Health Care, Inc., a large hospital and health care organization, will pay $80,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's lawsuit charged that in 2009, Aurora withdrew a job offer it had made to Kelly Beckwith for a position as hospice care coordinator upon learning during her pre-employment medical examination that she has multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a serious disease which affects the body's neurological system. Beckwith had been diagnosed with MS some years earlier, but had not yet developed major symptoms. At the time she applied, Beckwith was working as a nurse and was fully qualified to perform the essential functions of the job.
While Aurora contended Beckwith failed to disclose her MS, the EEOC alleged that the condition was properly disclosed and that Beckwith's MS was the true reason for the withdrawal of the job offer. The EEOC alleged that Aurora discriminated against Beckwith because of her disability by misusing confidential medical information to discriminate against her, and by using a qualification standard that tends to discriminate against those who are disabled.
Disability discrimination is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit on Sept. 26, 2012 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Aurora Health Care, Inc., Civil Action No. 12-cv-984) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Judge J.P. Stadtmueller signed a two-year consent decree settling the suit on July 10, 2015. In addition to substantial monetary relief to Beckwith, the decree contains an injunction prohibiting the company from withdrawing job offers from disabled individuals based on information learned during pre-employment medical examinations and from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under federal law. Additionally, the decree requires the company to adopt a written policy with standards and procedures for investigating allegations that a job applicant was dishonest or failed to disclose something during the medical examination. Aurora must keep records for all individuals whose job offers are rescinded based on information obtained in the medical examination or under its new policy and report this information to the EEOC.
"Enforcing the ADA's expansive definition of disability is a high priority for the EEOC, and these newer standards clearly establish MS as a disabling condition," said John C. Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney for its Chicago district. "Employers should understand that the EEOC will bring case after case to achieve the purposes of the statute, and disabled individuals should know that they have an ally in the EEOC."
Jean Kamp, EEOC associate regional attorney, said, "In many cases, someone who doesn't get hired has no idea why. Here, the EEOC's investigation and litigation focused attention on the hiring process to figure out what happened. The case also highlighted the important confidentiality provisions of the law. Everyone should understand that the ADA protects the confidential medical information of all job applicants."
According to its website, https://ahc.aurorahealthcare.org/news-media-center/our-organization.aspx, Aurora is a private, not-for-profit health care provider operating 15 hospitals and 159 clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois, with 30,000 employees.
The EEOC was represented by Camille A. Monahan, Senior Trial Attorney in the Milwaukee Area Office, and Jessica A. Palmer-Denig, Senior Trial Attorney in the Minneapolis Area Office, along with Associate Regional Attorney Jean P. Kamp, under the management of the agency's Chicago District Office. That office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.