The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Hospital Prohibited Applicants and Employees from Working

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The New Hanover Regional Medical Center has violated federal disability discrimination law by its drug policies, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today. The EEOC charged that the center unlawfully prohibited applicants and employees from working there if they were taking a legally prescribed narcotic medication.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, Elizabeth Saunders, Mary Eubanks, Allison Burge, and similarly situated applicants and employees were denied hire or placed on unpaid leave by the center because they were taking prescribed narcotic medications. The EEOC said that such action was taken because New Hanover perceived persons taking narcotic medications as being disabled.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on perceived disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. New Hanover Regional Medical Center; Civil Action No. 7:09-cv-00085) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

“In this case, the employer used a blanket policy to exclude employees from work just because they were taking certain legally prescribed narcotic medications,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC’s Raleigh Area Office, where the charge was filed. “The ADA requires that employers make an individualized assessment of an applicant’s or employee’s ability to perform his or her specific job.”

New Hanover Regional Medical Center operates a hospital in Wilmington, N.C., as well as various other health care facilities in New Hanover County, N.C., and employs approximately 4,700 people.

During Fiscal Year 2008, disability discrimination charge filings with the EEOC nationwide rose to 19,453 -- an increase of 10 percent from the prior fiscal year and the highest number of disability bias charges filed with the EEOC in 14 years.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at

This page was last modified on May 22, 2009.

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