EEOC Is Scrutinizing Health Care Industry Employers’ ADA Compliance
Within the last six months, the EEOC has filed a number of lawsuits against health care employers alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Earlier this month, the EEOC settled one of those lawsuits with Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley, Iowa. In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that the Hospital failed to hire a woman to work in its child care center because of the Hospital’s fear that the woman’s cerebral palsy would prevent her from safely caring for children. The settlement required the Hospital to pay $75,000 to the plaintiff, as well as to institute and distribute to all employees a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. The Hospital will also be required to train its employees and report regularly to the EEOC on its ADA compliance.
As the EEOC typically does, it issued a press release about this settlement. [http://www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/3-7-14.cfm]. What is most striking about the press release is the following quote from EEOC Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson:
Sometimes it looks like organizations engaged in the health care field or in the performance of other “good works” consider it impossible for them to have discriminated—or to be challenged for having discriminated—particularly when it comes to the ADA. But our experience has been that all organizations, whatever their line of business and however they are organized, are vulnerable to falling into patterns or acts of discrimination if they do not consciously make compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws a priority.
This quote hints that it is no accident that the EEOC has recently engaged in a pattern of targeting health care employers for ADA violations. And this is not the first comment from the EEOC to lend support to such a concept. In settling an ADA lawsuit with a California disability services provider in October, an EEOC attorney stated, “When a county disability services provider commits obvious disability discrimination, that shows the crying need for the ADA and for the EEOC to enforce it.” The EEOC obviously views ADA enforcement actions against health care providers as good public relations opportunities.
The EEOC is obviously looking for opportunities to make an example of health care employers whom it feels “should know better.” Health care employers should heed the warning. Be proactive in preparing for ADA claims before they occur. Update and periodically review your policies to make sure they are compliant. Train all employees—not just management—on ADA compliance. Engage counsel on employment decisions that may implicate the ADA.