Health Care Staffing Agency Fired Phlebotomist With Sickle-Cell Anemia, Federal Agency Charges
BALTIMORE - Dependable Health Services, Inc., a health care staffing agency, violated federal law when it fired an employee with sickle-cell anemia instead of reinstating her or reassigning her to a position in another department where she had previously worked, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the suit, Sheena Berry started working at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., as a phlebotomist in March 2016. In September 2016, when Dependable Health Services took over a medical services contract at Walter Reed, Berry was pregnant and experienced complications related to the sickle-cell anemia, including restrictions on her ability to lift and bend. Berry told Dependable Health Services about her pregnancy and disability and requested a reasonable accommodation of no longer working mobile blood drives. Dependable Health Services initially refused to accommodate Berry, the EEOC said.
Shortly thereafter, Berry had premature contractions while working on a mobile blood drive, and was hospitalized. Only then did Dependable Health Services accommodate her by placing her in the Out-Patient Phlebotomy Department, which did not require mobile blood drives, according to the suit. Berry remained working in that department until she gave birth in early November 2016.
While on maternity leave, Berry contacted Dependable Health Services on several occasions to update them on her status and hospitals stays.
On Feb. 24, 2017, Berry informed Dependable Health Services that she would return to work on Feb. 28. However, on Feb. 27, Dependable Health Services abruptly terminated Berry, stating it "decided to have [Berry's] position backfilled effective immediately. Please see the attached notice of your employment termination effective today, 02/27/2017."
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations unless the employer can prove it would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Dependable Health Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 8:17-cv-02316) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. As part of the suit, the EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief prohibiting the company from engaging in any employment practices that discriminate based on disability in the future.
"The law is clear -- an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to individuals with a disability," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "Instead of reinstating Ms. Berry, or responding to her request to be reassigned to work in the outpatient department, Dependable Health Services abruptly fired her the day before she was set to return to work - and that's why we filed this suit."
Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of EEOC's Philadelphia District Office, added, "Everyone loses when an employer rushes to terminate an employee instead of exploring potential reasonable accommodations, including transfer to a vacant position, that would enable a good worker to remain employed."
The EEOC's Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
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.