Paloma Blanca Health and Rehabilitation Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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Man Denied Accommodation for Diabetes and Heart Conditions and Then Fired, Federal Agency Charges

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The operators of a residential nursing home in Albuquerque violated federal law by denying accommodation to and terminating an employee because of his disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed March 11.

According to the EEOC's suit, Doug Johnson, an employee of Paloma Blanca Health and Rehabilitation, LLC, Alpha Healthcare Properties, LLC, and LaVie Care Centers LLC, d/b/a Consulate Health Care, has diabetes and heart conditions. Johnson requested to work eight-hour days instead of longer ones as a reasonable accommodation. Instead, the EEOC said, the company fired Johnson -- while he was on approved leave and recovering from a heart attack -- because of his disabilities and/or because he requested accommodation for them.

Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability, including the need for reasonable accommodation. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico (EEOC v. Paloma Blanca Health and Rehabilitation, LLC, Alpha Healthcare Properties, LLC, and La Vie Care Centers LLC, d/b/a Consulate Health Care, Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-00235-GBW-KBM) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process.

"The law is clear: Employers have a legal obligation to explore reasonable accommodations for disabilities -- and limiting Mr. Johnson to eight-hour days was certainly in that category, " said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. "Companies cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees unless there is an undue hardship to the company."

The lawsuit asks the court to order these operating companies to provide Johnson with appropriate relief, including back wages, prejudgment interest, compensatory and punitive damages, and to grant a permanent injunction enjoining the companies from engaging in any further discriminatory practice because of disabilities. The EEOC also asks the court to order the companies to institute and carry out policies and practices that eradicate and prevent disability discrimination in the workplace.

EEOC Albuquerque Area Director Derick Newton said, "Employers have an important responsibility to honor approved leave requests and refrain from discriminating based on disability while an employee is recuperating. One would expect that health and rehabilitation companies at least would understand that. We found, after our investigation, that terminating Mr. Johnson while he was out on approved leave and obtaining medical treatment violated the ADA."

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at 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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