Recently, a North Dakota hospital agreed to pay $95,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the EEOC, the hospital refused to provide light duty work to a pregnant nurse with lifting restrictions because of a pregnancy-related health condition and fired her instead. The hospital, however, had provided light duty work to other nurses who were injured on the job. The EEOC’s lawsuit alleges that the hospital violated both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a result of its refusal to accommodate the nurse’s lifting restrictions. An EEOC official commenting on the case stated “[i]t is especially important that they [employers] understand that if they are accommodating persons with restrictions arising from a work-related injury, they may have to provide the same accommodations to employees with restrictions arising out of pregnancy.”
If an employer creates light duty positions for employees injured on the job, and if the only effective reasonable accommodation for an employee who is pregnant or with a disability (unrelated to work) is to restructure the employee’s position, tantamount to creating a light duty position, then an employer must do so, absent undue hardship. Similarly, if an employer reserves light duty positions for employees who are injured on the job, it must do so for pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work and employees who are disabled (unrelated to work), absent undue hardship. This requirement relates to existing light-duty positions.
An employer is free to establish light duty positions that are temporary and not permanent in nature. Employers offering temporary light duty should have a written policy in place that makes clear that such light duty is temporary and establish a timeframe for such duty. Even so, in some circumstances, a brief extension of temporary light-duty status may be needed to avoid running afoul of the ADA and Title VII. While the law had been unsettled for a number of years, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision on this point, the $95,000 settlement paid by the North Dakota hospital serves as a reminder to employers that the provision of light duty work cannot be exclusively limited to individuals who experience an on-the-job injury or illness without the potential of violating other laws. It is recommended that employers seek the advice of experienced legal counsel before denying an available light duty position to an employee with a health condition or a pregnant employee with physical restrictions.
Trial court grants defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law in False Claims Act case
Recently, a federal court in the Middle District of Florida found that judgments of almost $350 million awarded against the owners and operators of 53 specialized nursing facilities in a False Claims Act case could not stand. The Florida and federal False Claims Acts permit the state and federal governments, respectively, acting through a “relator” (i.e., a private person on whose behalf the action is undertaken), to recover damages for a material and knowing misrepresentation to the government about a product or service sold to the government.
In the Middle District of Florida case, the relator alleged “that upcoding of Resource Utilization Group (RUG) levels and failure to maintain care plans made [the defendants’] claims to Medicare and Medicaid false or fraudulent.” However, citing to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, the district court reasoned that a claim brought under the False Claims Act requires proof “that the non-compliance [at issue] was material to the government’s payment decision and that the defendant knew at the moment the defendant sought payment that the non-compliance was material to the government’s payment decision.” Ultimately, the district court concluded that the relator did not present evidence of materiality and overturned the jury verdict awarding damages because “[t]he defendants delivered the services for which the governments were billed; the governments paid and continue to pay to this day despite the disputed practices, long ago known to all who cared to know.”
While this case is certainly good news for employers in health care, the possibility of an appeal of the district court’s decision is on the horizon. We will keep you posted regarding any developments.