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Nurse’s Reasonable Accommodation: Example of Workplace Discrimination

Recently, a court held that an employer must be fully responsive to a disabled employee’s accommodation request when the request is for reassignment or risk workplace discrimination. The decision allowed a disabled nurse to take her case to the jury after her hospital unreasonably failed to reassign her to another position. The case, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. St. Joseph’s Hospital, serves as a reminder to employees everywhere that they have a right to obtain a reasonable accommodation to their job or have the employer provide them a reasonable alternative, or at the least a logical explanation.

The nurse worked for many years before having hip-replacement surgery. After returning from surgery, the nurse had to use a cane. Due to the patient population in the psychiatric unit, the nurse’s cane posed a threat to patient and employee safety because a patient may have been able to use the nurse’s cane as a weapon. To show that the nurse can still perform the essential functions of her job safely, the nurse had to show that using the cane does not pose a threat. However, the court found that using the cane exposed the patient and employees to a threat. The court also stated that the hospital should have allowed the nurse to find an alternative position.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), employers may not discriminate against qualified employees with disabilities whether it is in job application, hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, benefits, and terms and conditions related to employment. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees and defines a “disabled person” as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a reason of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.

In this case, the nurse was considered a disabled person under the ADA because her post hip-surgery gait dysfunction required a cane and established that she had a physical impairment that substantially limited her major life activity. Upon application by the nurse for an alternative position, the hospital was required to make a reasonable accommodation to the nurse’s disability by considering her for other positions. It did not.

Similarly, under California law, the employer cannot fire an employee with a physical or mental disability if the employee can still perform her essential duties with the reasonable accommodation or in a manner not endangering anyone’s health or safety. Here, there was a workplace safety issue.

If you believe that you suffered from any workplace discrimination in violation of the ADA or California law, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates to evaluate your case. See these blogs for additional information.