By James Smith
An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, news release dated Sept. 25 declared the agency has filed suit in federal court against Mexico’s Audrain Medical Center.
The suit charges that AMC violated federal law by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation to one of its nurses, who was suffering from neuralgia and then firing her because of the disability.
The nurse, Cynthia Hodges, who had worked for Audrain for 17 years, had neuralgia and returned from leave authorized under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, FMLA, with a 10-pound lifting restriction for a six-week period.
When AMC refused to accommodate her restrictions, Hodges requested additional unpaid leave for six weeks as an accommodation for her disability.
AMC’s chief executive officer David Neuendorf responded to the law suit. “We were disappointed to learn of the recent disability discrimination suit filed by the EEOC against AMC.”
An EEOC news release said accommodation would have allowed her to return to work without restrictions on June 2, 2009. The release said AMC refused to grant Hodges the additional leave or to explore any other accommodations, without explanation, and ultimately terminated her.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara Seely. “The company refused to explain why it could not grant a 17-year employee an additional six weeks of unpaid leave. It obviously would not have created a staff shortage, because Ms. Hodges was not replaced until well after her contemplated return-to-work date.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from discrimination based upon their disability.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (Case No. 2:12-CV-00073) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Audrain Medical Center employs approximately 500 people and serves primarily Mexico, Audrain County and surrounding communities.
“It was unfortunate the employee in question was physically unable to perform the basic requirements of her job,” Neuendorf said. “At the time of her termination her restrictions could not be reasonably accommodated. It was not safe for her or our patients to allow her to return to work.”
He said Audrain Medical Center complied with the law and followed its policies and procedures in this matter.
“We believe this suit is without merit and we look forward to the opportunity to defend our actions in a court of law.”
Regarding possible wider implications of the issue, Neuendorf also said
“The lawsuit will have no impact on our efforts to affiliate with a larger health care system.”