ADA and Disability Discrimination
EEOC Alleges Dignity Health Fired Longtime Employee with Vision Loss in Violation of ADA
On July 12, 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Dignity Health, a healthcare company headquartered in San Francisco and operator of a medical center in Redding, California. The EEOC claims the company violated federal law when it refused to provide accommodations to allow a 10-year employee to return to work after she suffered a sudden loss of vision, and instead fired her by selectively applying a previously unused vision requirement.
According to the EEOC’s investigation, Alina Sorling worked as a food service technician in Mercy Medical Center’s cafeteria for over ten years, performing tasks that included cashiering, grilling, cleaning and stocking. A severe illness left her with vision loss and Sorling took an unpaid leave of absence to rehabilitate and learn non-visual techniques necessary for independent living. According to the EEOC report, Sorling successfully mastered everyday tasks such as cooking in her own kitchen and proficiency with knife skills. Therefore, Sorling sought to return to work and informed her employer of multiple accommodations that she or the California Department of Rehabilitation could provide to allow her to perform the duties of her job. Making unsupported assumptions about safety and her capacity, Dignity Health unilaterally rejected the suggestions, and cited a 20/40 vision requirement when they fired her in June 2015 – even though they had never administered a vision test in the ten years she had worked there.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. As it relates to employment, Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers. The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with a disability, a record of a disability, or who are regarded as having a disability. Further, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees absent an undue hardship.
In this case, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s lawsuit seeks lost wages and expenses, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief designed to prevent such discrimination in the future. Speaking specifically of the case and disability discrimination, William Tamayo, the EEOC’s San Francisco District Office Director remarked, “Instead of allowing her (Sorling) to demonstrate her abilities, Dignity Health excluded her due to fixed assumptions about her disability and limitations. Congress enacted the ADA to combat exactly this type of injustice.”
According to the EEOC release, Dignity Health is the fifth-largest health system in the United States and comprises more than 60,000 caregivers and staff, delivering care to communities across 21 states. Dignity Health is the largest hospital provider in California and operates Mercy Medical Center in Redding, where Sorling worked for ten years before she was fired.
Questions about Disability and Discrimination
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