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Press Release 05-17-2019

Arizona Health Companies to Pay $545,000 to Settle EEOC Disability and Pregnancy Discrimination Suit

Hospitals' Administration of Leave Policy Discriminated Against Disabled and Pregnant Employees, Federal Agency Charged

 PHOENIX - Carondelet Health Network and Ascension Health, which owned and operated three southern Arizona hospitals, will pay $545,000 to six individuals and provide other significant relief to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC's lawsuit alleged that the health care companies discriminated against employees with disabilities and pregnant women with pregnancy-related medical conditions.

According to the EEOC, Carondelet Health Network and Ascension Health refused to provide reasonable accommodations such as extended leave, reassignment, or assistive devices to employees with disabilities. The EEOC also alleged that the companies had an inflexible 90-day leave policy and that they terminated employees with disabilities at the end of the 90 days without considering reasonable accommo­dations that would allow the employees to return to work.

The EEOC further charges that Carondelet Health Network and Ascension Health discriminated against pregnant employees by refusing them accommodations provided to non-pregnant employees and by discharging pregnant employees who could not return to work within 90 days because of pregnancy-related medical conditions.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability and also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. The alleged treatment of employees also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees, including failing to accommodate pregnant employees in the same way an employer accommodates non-pregnant employees.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-00263-FRZ, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process and continued negotiations prior to filing suit. The two-year consent decree settling the suit enjoins Carondelet Health Network from engaging in discrimination based on disability or pregnancy in the future. The decree also requires Carondelet Health Network to appoint at least one accommodation coordinator to be responsible for overseeing future requests for reasonable accommoda­tions. Additionally, the decree provides for training and posting a notice of employees' rights at three hospitals in southern Arizona.

"We appreciate Carondelet Health Network's and Ascension Health's agreement to resolve this case without protracted litigation," said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. "This consent decree compensates the former employees the EEOC identified as adversely affected, and it will help build policies and practices that will better serve current and future employees."

Elizabeth Cadle, district director for the Phoenix office, said, "This settlement highlights the EEOC's commitment to ending all forms of disability discrimination and sex discrimination, including discrimination against pregnant women. It should also remind employers of the need to make an individ­ualized assessment of each request for accommodation."

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.