Dignity Health Refused to Accommodate and Then Fired Employee With Vision Loss, Federal Agency Charged
REDDING, Calif. - Dignity Health, which operates Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Calif., will pay $570,000 and take important steps to prevent future discrimination to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC's suit charged that the medical center failed to accommodate Alina Sorling, a 10-year cafeteria employee who had survived a severe illness that left her with vision loss. Sorling's work as a food service technician involved tasks such as cashiering, grilling, cleaning and stocking. In 2015, after a successful rehabilitation where she was trained to proficiency in kitchen 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 her job duties. Dignity Health rejected the suggestions and fired Sorling.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees unless it would be an undue hardship. After an investigation by EEOC Investigators Patricia Finnegan and Malinda Tuazon and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC filed suit (CIV# 3:18-cv-04135) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Sorling was also independently represented by other counsel, Timothy Elder and Scott LaBarre.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $570,000 to Sorling in lost wages, compensatory damages and attorneys' fees, and requires Dignity Health to update its policies, procedures and training. The company will provide anti-discrimination training to all leadership and employees; make its policies available to all employees; report to the EEOC all complaints of disability discrimination for the duration of the consent decree; and post a notice for employees about the decree and employees' rights under federal law.
"Speaking out against discrimination at work is hard, but I am really glad I did," said Sorling. "I am hopeful this settlement will help to make the medical center more open to workers with vision loss and other disabilities. I am thankful to the EEOC and my attorneys for standing by me and seeing this through."
"The EEOC commends Dignity Health for resolving this matter quickly and amicably and demonstrating its commitment to complying with the law," said EEOC Regional Attorney Roberta Steele. "The company will ensure that it has effective policies and practices in place about the ADA and the processing of requests for reasonable accommodations that are communicated effectively to employees."
EEOC Trial Attorney Ami Sanghvi said, "The ADA requires a two-way interactive process between the employer and employee. This consent decree provides for such a process, which will help all employees with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations to perform their jobs and stay employed."
EEOC Enforcement Manager Dana Johnson added, "Violations of the ADA continue to be a problem in today's workplaces. Dignity Health worked collaboratively with the EEOC to resolve this lawsuit by a consent decree that shows its willingness to comply with the ADA."
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.
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