Clinic Fired Nurse Due to Clinic's Medical Leave Policy, Federal Agency Charges
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Nationwide healthcare provider Dialysis Clinic, Inc. has agreed to pay $190,000 to a former employee with breast cancer and furnish other relief to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Dialysis Clinic violated federal law by firing and then refusing to rehire a long-time nurse who needed more medical leave to complete her treatment for breast cancer. Francisca Lee had worked as a nurse at the company's Sacramento Southgate location for 14 years when she took medical leave for mastectomy surgery and chemotherapy treatments. After four months, Dialysis Clinic notified Lee by mail that she was being terminated for exceeding the time limit dictated by its medical leave policy, the EEOC said. This was done despite Lee being on approved medical leave and cleared by her doctor to return to work without restrictions in less than two months. Lee was told that she would have to reapply for open positions. However, when Lee did apply two months later, she was rejected, and, not long after, Dialysis Clinic hired a newly licensed nurse.
Terminating a qualified employee because of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship for the employer. Providing an extended medical leave can be a reasonable accommodation. After an investigation by EEOC investigator Monica Colunga and after attempting to resolve the case through pre-litigation conciliation efforts, EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Dialysis Clinic, Inc., 2:14-cv-01623-TLN-KJN) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
According to the consent decree settling the suit, Dialysis Clinic has agreed to pay $190,000 in damages; revise its policies concerning reasonable accommodation; provide anti-discrimination training to human resources personnel; and post notices regarding the lawsuit. In addition, the employer will periodically report to the EEOC on its handling of extended medical leave requests.
"As a nurse, you understand that sometimes the healing process takes time," said Lee. "I am pleased to know that Dialysis Clinic will now take steps to ensure that employees can take the time they need for medical reasons without having to worry about losing their jobs."
EEOC San Francisco Acting Regional Attorney Jonathan Peck said, "Ms. Lee was a long-term employee who only needed two more months to recover and return to work. Extending her medical leave would have posed little burden on Dialysis Clinic. Employers with inflexible leave policies lose the opportunity to help a valued employee return to work - and they're violating the law."
EEOC San Francisco District Director William Tamayo added, "Revising policy and training are positive changes to ensure that employees with disabilities at Dialysis Clinic will be given full benefit of the reasonable accommodation process, and, if needed, the medical leave necessary to address their needs."
According to its website (www.dciinc.org), Dialysis Clinic is a Nashville, Tenn.-based nonprofit corporation serving patients with advanced kidney disease. It has over 5,000 employees, and operates over 210 dialysis clinics in 27 states, including three locations in the Sacramento area.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.