Federal Agency Said Type-1 Diabetic Nurse Fired After Seizures; Wisconsin Hospital Employees Subjected to Prohibited Inquiries and Medical Exams
MILWAUKEE – St. Joseph’s Community Hospital of West Bend, Wis., will pay $70,000 and furnish other relief under a consent decree to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC had charged that the hospital disciplined and terminated an emergency room nurse because seizures related to her Type-1 diabetes occasionally required her to take days off. Federal District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller of the Eastern District of Wisconsin signed the consent decree late yesterday. The suit (Civil Action No. 08-c-0805 JPS), was filed by the EEOC in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in September 2008 under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to the EEOC, St. Joseph’s Community Hospital, affiliated with Froedtert & Community Health system of Wauwatosa, Wis., disciplined nurse Celeste Kinnunen for absences due to diabetic seizures, leading to her termination. The EEOC also asserted that the hospital required employees and applicants to complete an annual personal health assessment form that contained questions that were not job-related or actually required for the conduct of the hospital’s business, and, therefore, were unlawful because they were likely to disclose information about an employees’ disabilities or impairments. The EEOC’s position was that such information was irrelevant to the ability of hospital employees to do the essential functions of their jobs.
“Ms. Kinnunen lost her job because she needed occasional time off to recover from diabetes-related seizures,” said John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, who supervised the agency investigation which preceded the lawsuit. “It is unfortunate that many employers still deny the opportunity to work to people who are ready and able simply because of a disability. The EEOC will continue to fight for the rights of people victimized by such prejudices.”
With respect to the collection of personal health information of employees, John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney for the Chicago District, added, “It’s a bad idea. Requiring all employees to report every detail of their personal health history amounts to an unreasonable invasion of privacy, whether an employee is disabled or not. The purpose of the ADA is to extinguish the stereotypes and biases that prevent people from obtaining or maintaining employment. Compulsory but irrelevant and unnecessary medical exams and histories provide a fertile ground for the development of unfounded stereotypes and irrational assumptions about the ability of employees to perform the essential functions of the job.”
In addition to paying $70,000 in monetary damages to the former nurse, the two-year consent decree resolving the matter will require ADA training for managers and human resource staff, and monitoring by the EEOC. Additionally, St. Joseph’s Community Hospital will be prohibited from collecting sensitive personal health information of its employees, except in narrow circumstances.
The government’s litigation effort was led by Associate Regional Attorney Jean P. Kamp and Trial Attorney Nick Pladson of the EEOC’s Minneapolis Area Office. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
According to company information, St. Joseph’s Community Hospital recently became affiliated with Froedtert & Community Health of Wauwatosa, Wis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.