Health Care Co. on Hook for $133K in Settlement of ADA Lawsuit Over Medical Examination Policy

This case involving an employee with disabilities at a health care company quickly devolved into a series of missteps resulting in her firing. The company was wise to settle the matter.

McLeod Health, Inc., a Florence, S.C.-based regional health care organization that operates several medical facilities throughout South Carolina, will pay $133,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability dis­crimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced Monday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Cecelia Whitten began working for McLeod Health in 1984 as a communications specialist. In 2012, McLeod required Whitten, who has congenital orthopedic abnormalities, to submit to two medical examinations as a result of McLeod’s assumptions about Whitten’s health and physical abilities. Whitten was placed on leave pending the completion of the medical examinations. Following the medical examinations, McLeod’s Occupational Health Depart­ment recommended certain job accommodations for Whitten, which allegedly were not in accord with Whitten’s physical needs or the job she performed.

Around Aug. 13, 2012, McLeod informed Whitten that she could not return to work in her position as a communications specialist because McLeod could not provide her with certain of the recommended job accommodations. The EEOC said that despite the fact that Whitten could continue performing her job duties without accommodation as she had for decades, McLeod fired her on Feb. 12, 2013 when she exhausted her available leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Florence Division (Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission v. McLeod Health, Inc., Civil Action No.4:14-CV-03615-RBH-TER) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.

In addition to providing $133,000 in monetary relief for Whitten, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit requires McLeod to develop and implement an extensive procedure applicable to all medical examinations the organization undertakes or seeks to undertake, to include the designation of a coordinator responsible for directing and overseeing each medical examination. The decree further requires McLeod to revise its existing medical examination policy to comport with the newly devised medical examination procedure; provide annual ADA training to all managers, human resources representatives and supervisors across its facilities; post an anti-discrimination notice across its facilities; and provide periodic reports to the EEOC.

“The very purpose of the ADA is to fight against prejudices, stereotypes, and antiquated attitudes that diminish the right of individuals with physical or mental disabilities to fully participate in the workforce,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “The EEOC is here to fight for the rights of people like Cecelia Whitten.”

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