Upper Chesapeake settles federal discrimination suit

Upper Chesapeake Health System agreed to pay $180,000 to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought on behalf of a former employee of the organization's Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday.

Upper Chesapeake, which completed a merger with University of Maryland Medical System late last year, also agreed to take certain remedial actions to provide a positive reference for the ex-employee who was at the center of the lawsuit, according to a consent decree signed to end the lawsuit.

The action was brought after the two sides failed to reach an agreement in pre-litigation talks, the EEOC's Philadelphia office said in a statement announcing the settlement. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

"Defendant and its officers, servants, employees, successors and assigns are hereby enjoined from violating the provisions of Title 1of the [Americans with Disabilities Act], and shall refrain from discriminating or taking adverse employment actions against disabled individuals on the basis of their disability or on the basis of the need to accommodate their disability, and further shall provide reasonable accommodations to such individuals," the consent degree, which will be in effect for three years, reads in part.

According to the EEOC's suit, which was filed last September in Federal District Court in Baltimore, Upper Chesapeake failed to reassign Deborah Ropiski as a reasonable accommodation after it removed her from her position as a pulmonary function technologist based on its perception that her disability, Usher's syndrome, interfered with her ability to do her job. Usher's syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by varying levels of vision and hearing loss.

The suit charged Upper Chesapeake terminated Ropiski because of her disability and in retaliation for her requests for accommodations. The suit also noted Ropiski had consistently received good performance evaluations and positive patient feedback during her 19 years of employment with Upper Chesapeake.

The EEOC also claimed Upper Chesapeake did not rehire Ropiski for a vacant position for which she was qualified because of her disability and in retaliation for her filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC.

"Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, including reassignment to a vacant position, unless the employer can prove it would be an undue hardship," EEOC said in its statement. "The ADA also prohibits employers from terminating or failing to hire an employee based on disability or retaliating against an employee because she requested a reasonable accommodation or filed a discrimination charge."

The consent decree resolving the lawsuit also requires Upper Chesapeake to implement and disseminate to all employees an ADA reasonable accommodation policy and to provide training on the ADA and its requirement to provide reasonable accommodations, including reassignment. Upper Chesapeake must also post a remedial notice.

Efforts to reach Upper Chesapeake's spokesperson for a comment about the settlement were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.

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