$100K Resolves Suit Over Alleged Refusal by Employer to Give Accommodation or Light Duty After Surgery

September 18, 2017

Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, dba River Region Medical Center, will pay $100,000 to settle allegations that the provider of inpatient and outpatient medical and surgical services violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to grant a nurse’s request for either additional leave or to return to work on light duty following shoulder surgery.

The licensed practical nurse sought and was approved for sick leave from work to have surgery on her shoulder, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Shortly before her leave was to expire, she purportedly requested, consistent with her physical therapist’s and her physician’s advice, a reasonable accommodation of a leave extension, or to return to work on light duty. But River Region refused the employee’s requests, refused to provide any accommodation, and failed to engage in any interactive process to try to reach a solution, the EEOC contends. River Region also allegedly refused to place the employee temporarily in an available light-duty position for which she was qualified, and then terminated her after 36 years of employment there.

The EEOC noted that after the district court dismissed the case on summary judgment, the federal agency appealed to the Fifth Circuit (EEOC v Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, No 15-60764 (Oct. 12, 2016)), which reversed summary judgment and returned the case to the district court for trial. The parties then settled.

Under the one-year consent decree settling the case, in addition to paying the monetary relief, River Region must: provide training to its employees on its obligations under the ADA; review its antidiscrimination policies and modify them if necessary; and post notices on its bulletin boards reaffirming to employees its policy not to discriminate against employees with disabilities, and informing them of their right to contact the EEOC if they feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against. The company is also enjoined from engaging in any discrimination or retaliation because of disability.

"Employers should know they violate federal law when they mandate that disabled employees can only return to work without work restrictions," said EEOC Regional Attorney Marsha L. Rucker. "Employers also violate the law when they have inflexible policies restricting medical leave to 12 weeks as required by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers have a duty beyond the FMLA to provide unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation unless such an accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer."

The EEOC filed its lawsuit, case number 5:13-cv-00189-KS-MTP, in the Southern District of Mississippi.