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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against MedStar Harbor Hospital accusing the Baltimore facility of firing a respiratory therapist rather than accommodating his medical disability so he could do his job.

The Baltimore hospital discriminated against Jerome Alston, 57, who has a compromised immune system, the commission said in a court filing released Tuesday.

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The Columbia resident received a kidney transplant in 2001 and takes medication that weakens his immune system and leaves him prone to infections. Because of his condition, he can't work in the hospital's negative pressure rooms — isolation areas with mechanical ventilation systems that trap infectious airborne materials to prevent them from reaching other parts of the hospital.

Alston, who was hired by the hospital in 2010, was given modified assignments, or "work-arounds," for nearly three years. It was the same accommodations the hospital also provided for pregnant women.

In November 2013, EEOC attorneys said, the hospital abruptly denied his request for special accommodations. The agency alleged he was fired when he said he couldn't do the work in the conditions the hospital wanted.

"The law is clear — an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability unless the employer can show that doing so would be an undue hardship," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence in a statement. "In this case, MedStar could have modified Mr. Alston's job assignment, as it had done in the past for him and other employees, so he would not have to work in a setting that would have compromised his health. Instead, it chose to terminate him because of his disability, and that's why we filed this lawsuit."

Hospital officials declined to comment on the lawsuit because they had not reviewed it.

Alston also declined to comment.

The EEOC complaint said the commission was unable to reach an agreement with the hospital to come up with a way to accommodate Alston and therefore had to file the lawsuit. The hospital's actions were done with "malice" and "reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Alston," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, back pay and reinstatement of compensation in lieu of Alston getting his job back. It also asks for compensation for emotional pain and suffering Alston might have suffered.

Twitter.com/ankwalker

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