Hospital Accused of Firing Employee with Cancer Will Pay $100,000

A Pittsburgh hospital has agreed to pay $100,000 and furnish other equitable relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which charged the hospital with firing an employee because she had cancer.

According to EEOC's lawsuit against LifeCare Hospitals of Pittsburgh Inc., former business manager Diana Altieri-Hand, of Murrysville, Pa., needed a reasonable accommodation for her disability after she had surgery for cancer and underwent chemotherapy. Altieri-Hand was a longstanding employee of LifeCare or its predecessor and had a good performance record. LifeCare, a free-standing hospital facility managed or operated by LifeCare Management Services LLC, initially provided a reasonable accommodation to Altieri-Hand.

However, according to EEOC, around August 2007 the regional director of finance suddenly stopped accommodating Altieri-Hand's disability and demanded that she return to work full-time with no restrictions. EEOC's complaint alleged that after Altieri-Hand returned to work full-time, the supervisor discriminated against her because of her disability, including substantially increasing her workload, removing her full-time staff assistant, and subjecting her to unwarranted work scrutiny. Finally, EEOC charged, the hospital fired Altieri-Hand because of her disability.

Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees' disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship on the business. EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 08-1358, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement out of court.

The consent decree resolving the lawsuit prohibits the hospital from engaging in disability discrimination and retaliation. As part of the settlement, the hospital will also train all employees regarding the ADA's prohibitions against disability discrimination. LifeCare did not admit liability in the consent decree, which is pending judicial approval.

"It is particularly disturbing and sadly ironic when a health care facility, of all places, refuses to reasonably accommodate an employee's disability," said EEOC Acting Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence. "The resolution of this case will remind employers about their legal responsibilities under the ADA."

During Fiscal Year 2008, disability discrimination charges 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.

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