Harford County-based Upper Chesapeake Health System is the subject of a complaint and lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a former employee who claims she was discriminated against because of a disability and retaliated against when she sought federal relief.
The civil suit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and alleges the non-profit health care company "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," according to a news release issued Friday by EEOC's Baltimore office.
Upper Chesapeake owns and operates Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and related facilities in Harford County. The company is part of the University of Maryland Medical System.
The complainant, Deborah Ropiski, worked at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air for nearly 19 years, according to the suit, and suffers from Usher's Syndrome, a genetic disorder that impairs hearing and vision. The complaint alleges Upper Chesapeake removed Ropiski from her pulmonary function technologist position because of its perception that her disability interfered with the safe performance of her job. She sought transfers to other positions, which were denied on similar grounds, according to the complaint, and was eventually terminated, even though she had consistently received positive performance evaluations and positive patient feedback.
The complaint further alleges that Ropiski was not rehired for a vacant position for which she was qualified because of her disability and because she had filed a complaint with EEOC.
Relief being sought under the lawsuit includes back pay with interest and other unspecified monetary damages, as well as Ropiski's rehiring. EEOC is seeking a federal jury trial and injunctive relief prohibiting Upper Chesapeake from discriminating against disability in the future, according to the complaint.
"Upper Chesapeake has a strict non-discrimination policy, and takes compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act very seriously," Martha Mallonee, Upper Chesapeake's director of communications, wrote in an e-mailed statement. "We believe that this lawsuit is without merit and intend to vigorously defend the appropriateness, fairness, and legality of the accommodations at issue."
According to the EEOC news release, an effort to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency's mediation process was unsuccessful. EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination.
"Upper Chesapeake Health System had an obligation to reassign Ms. Ropiski into a vacant position absent undue hardship," EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in the news release. "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."