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PRESS RELEASE
9-1-16

New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates to Pay $165,000 to Settle EEOC Associational Disability Bias Charge

Company Fired Temporary Agency Staff Member and Failed to Hire Her for Full-Time Position Because of Association With a Child With Disabilities, Federal Agency Charged

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C. (NMOA), which owns and operates a medical facility in Albuquerque, will pay $165,000 to settle a lawsuit for associational disability discrimination filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to EEOC's suit, NMOA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing Melissa Yalch Valencia, a temporary staffing agency employee, and failing to hire her for a full-time position because of her relationship with her then three-year old daughter, who had disabilities or was regarded as disabled.

Disability discrimination, including discrimination against relatives and associates of a disabled individual, violates the ADA. EEOC filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico (EEOC v. New Mexico Orthopaedics Associates, P.C., 15-CV-00557 MV/KBM) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to requiring NMOA to pay monetary damages to Valencia and provide her a letter of reference, the consent decree settling the suit requires NMOA to conduct annual anti-discrimination training for its employees, managers, supervisors, and human resources employees. NMOA will also develop and implement a management evaluation and compensation system which takes into account compliance with equal employment opportunity laws, policies and laws prohibiting retaliation, and this decree. NMOA will also adopt and distribute its anti-discrimination policies and report to EEOC if there are any complaints of disability discrimination. The court approved the settlement and will retain jurisdiction for purposes of compliance for two years.

"The ADA specifically prohibits discrimination against mothers, fathers, caregivers, family members or others who are associated with persons with disabilities," said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "Employers, especially those employers in medical fields, should be careful to provide employment opportunities based solely on the qualifications of the employee or applicant and not impermissible factors such as their association with an individual with a disability."

Discrimination victim Melissa Yalch Valencia said, "It should never have happened. A mother should never have to worry about losing her job because her child has a disability. I hope the lawsuit encourages moms and dads to stand up fearlessly when things like this happen. I also hope this lawsuit and this resolution encourages companies to train supervisors and employees to assure things like this don't happen in the workplace."

EEOC Albuquerque Area Director Derick Newton added, "This lawsuit is the first associational disability claim pursued by the Albuquerque Area Office in federal court. We are proud of the staff involved and pleased that this employer will provide needed training and resources to ensure that this does not occur again."

EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.