Princeton HealthCare System Sued for Disability Discrimination

Princeton HealthCare System, which operates a hospital and provides other health care services, violated federal law by failing to reasonably accommodate the needs of its employees who needed medical leave, and then firing them because of their disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit it filed Wednesday.

According to EEOC’s suit, Princeton HealthCare enforces leave policies that do not provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability, fires employees who are not qualified for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they cannot return to work within seven days, and refuses to grant leave beyond the 12 weeks allowed by FMLA. Princeton HealthCare also does not grant exceptions to these policies for qualified individuals with disabilities who need additional leave as a reasonable accommodation, EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless it would cause an undue hardship to the employer. According to the act, a leave of absence is a form of reasonable accommodation.

More than a dozen employees with disabilities who requested a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation were denied leave and were fired by Princeton HealthCare, EEOC said. The agency filed suit (EEOC v. Princeton HealthCare System) in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

“The goal of the ADA is to provide equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities,” said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., director of the EEOC’s New York District Office. “The unfortunate reality is that too many companies discriminate against persons with disabilities by strictly applying blanket leave policies.”

Rosemary DiSavino, the EEOC trial attorney who will be litigating this case, said, “This lawsuit sends a message to employers that inflexible leave policies which ignore reasonable accommodations that will make it possible to get employees back on the job are illegal. The EEOC will seek full relief for qualified employees with disabilities who are harmed by the application of these types of policies.”

Princeton HealthCare System operates University Medical Center at Princeton and related health care facilities in Mercer County, N.J.

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