July 9, 2014

Princeton HealthCare System Settles EEOC Suit

Princeton HealthCare System will pay $1.35 million to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought four years ago by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding employee leave policy. The company, which operates University Medical Center at Princeton, will also undertake measures to correct their policy, which the EEOC says violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

The EEOC announced the settlement on June 30. The suit alleged that Princeton HealthCare System’s fixed leave policy failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation. The company’s leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which meant employee leaves were limited to a maximum of 12 weeks. So employees who were not eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act were fired after being absent for a short time, and more were fired once they were absent more than 12 weeks. Twenty-three employees were “negatively impacted,” according to the EEOC.

In a statement responding to the news of the settlement, Princeton HealthCare System said, “The case involved a human resource policy that was in place a number of years ago and was changed in 2010. As part of this settlement, the EEOC has reviewed the Hospital’s current policies and our ongoing program for training employees and supervisors, and has stated that it has no objection to the Hospital’s current policies and training program.

“Although the Hospital disagrees that the prior policy violated the ADA and challenged the claims, the Hospital has agreed to resolve those matters in order to avoid the very high cost and disruption of operations caused by the ongoing litigation. The Hospital has always been and remains fully committed to a workplace free of any discrimination.”

The suit was brought against the Princeton HealthCare System in August, 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after the EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement. As part of the settlement reached last month, the EEOC will monitor the company’s compliance with the decision over the next four years. The $1.35 million will be distributed among the employees who were terminated under the former policy.

The Princeton HealthCare System case is one of several the EEOC recently resolved involving leave and attendance policies. Others include Sears, Verizon, Supervalu, and Interstate Distributor, according to the release.

“This case should send a clear message that a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation under the law,” said Robert D. Rose, Regional Attorney of EEOC’s New York District Office, in the EEOC’s release. “Policies that limit the amount of leave, even if they comply with other laws, violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit.”