EEOC, OAKLAND, Calif. – An Oakland-based non-profit regional medical center has agreed to pay $300,000 to a former employee with breast cancer and to implement revised policies and training to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Children’s Hospital and Research Center fired Imelda Tamayo because she needed medical leave exceeding the hospital’s six-month policy.
The office associate had worked in the endocrinology department since March 2009 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011. Her initial request for two months’ leave to have a double mastectomy was granted. But when her treatment plan required additional leave, Tamayo was fired.
On July 10, 2012, during a meeting to discuss her request for extended leave, managers improperly chose to rely on their own assessment that she looked “fragile” and unlikely to return to work, despite her doctor’s note stating that Tamayo could resume work in September 2012.
“With this breast cancer, I was devastated by the loss of my job and my health insurance,” Tamayo said. “I am happy that Children’s Hospital has changed its policy to allow extended leave for employees suffering from serious medical conditions.”
Terminating a qualified employee because of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship for the employer. Requesting an extended medical leave can be a reasonable accommodation.
According to the consent decree ordered by Judge Edward Chen, Children’s Hospital will pay Tamayo $300,000 and will post its revised policy regarding accommodation of employees with disabilities on its employee intranet site. The hospital will also provide anti-discrimination training, make periodic reports to the EEOC, and post a notice regarding the decree for three years. EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Marcia Mitchell and Trial Attorney Debra A. Smith litigated the case for the federal agency.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo (no relation to Imelda Tamayo) said, “In this settlement, we want to credit Children’s Hospital for making extensive changes to ensure that high-level HR officials are educated and involved in accommodating employees with disabilities. This case should emphasize to employers that a request for extended leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation in cases of serious medical illness or injury. Furthermore, employers must not substitute lay opinion about an employee’s prognosis for valid medical opinion.”
EEOC San Francisco Acting District Director Michael Connolly observed, “Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. A large number of individuals with a range of circumstances are impacted by breast cancer, and the ADA is there to ensure that capable and qualified people like Ms. Tamayo are not denied the opportunity to contribute their talents to the workforce.”
Children’s Hospital and Research Center is a non-profit organization with 30 medical specialties, over 200 doctors, and 2,500 employees at multiple sites in Oakland and the surrounding area.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network