EEOC Sues Upper Chesapeake Health System for Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Health Care System Fired a Pulmonary Function Technologist After She Requested an Accommodation and Filed a Discrimination Charge, Federal Agency Charges

BALTIMORE - Upper Chesapeake Health System, a leading health care provider in northeastern Maryland, committed unlawful disability discrimination and retaliation against an employee, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.  The EEOC charged that the health system failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, fired, and later refused to rehire a pulmonary function technologist because of her disability and in retaliation for her requesting an accommodation and complaining about discrimination.  

Deborah Ropiski worked for Upper Chesapeake Health System at the health care system's Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, Md.  During her nearly 19 years of employment with Upper Chesapeake Health System, Ropiski consistently received positive performance evaluations and positive patient feedback.  Ropiski suffers from Usher's Syndrome, a genetic disorder that impairs hearing and vision.  The EEOC charges that Upper Chesapeake Health System removed Ropiski from her pulmonary function technologist position due to its perception that her disability interfered with the safe performance of her job, and then terminated her instead of transferring her to a suitable vacant position as a reasonable accommodation. 

The EEOC further said that the health care system later failed to rehire Ropiski into a vacant position for which she was qualified because of her disability and because she had filed charges with the EEOC.  

The health system's actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the EEOC charged.  The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Upper Chesapeake Health System, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-02846-ELH) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Upper Chesapeake Health System from future discriminating based on disability, equitable relief that provides equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and other affirmative relief for Ropiski.  

"Unfortunately, this case demonstrates that 23 years after the passage of the ADA, some employers still do not understand their obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability," said EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.  "Employers must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would be an undue hardship, and must not penalize employees who exercise their rights under the ADA."

EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Upper Chesapeake Health System had an obligation to reassign Ms. Ropiski into a vacant position absent undue hardship.  Instead, it chose to violate the ADA by firing a qualified longstanding employee and by retaliating against her.  That is why the EEOC filed this lawsuit." 

The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.  

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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