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Hopkins home care group charged with discrimination in lawsuit

A home health care service operated by Johns Hopkins failed to accommodate an employee with breast cancer and later fired her, the U.S. agency that enforces job discrimination laws charged in a suit announced Friday.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Hopkins unfairly fired Ray Ellen Fisher, a registered nurse, who had been a case manager at Johns Hopkins Home Care Group Inc. since 2003.

According to the complaint, Fisher was diagnosed in 2009 and began treatments. The Hopkins group did not provide reasonable accommodations so she could continue to work as a case manager or in another position, though she had limited restrictions on her work abilities, the EEOC said.

Fisher filed a discrimination charge with the commission, and the complaint charges she was then subjected to adverse actions and fired in retaliation. The commission says this is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and filed suit in U.S. District Court in Maryland after failing to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

The commission is seeking punitive damages and lost wages and benefits.

"Federal law clearly obligates employers to work with disabled employees to determine how best to accommodate them," said Debra Lawrence, a regional attorney with the commission. "Further, retaliating against someone for filing a discrimination charge is unlawful, and the [commission] will continue to vigorously prosecute cases where the employer has punished an employee for simply exercising her rights under the law."

Hopkins doesn't typically discuss pending litigation, but a spokesman said that the Johns Hopkins Home Care Group is "proud of its long history of accommodating individuals with disabilities."

Gary Stephenson, the spokesman, said, "We firmly believe our actions concerning Ms. Fisher were entirely appropriate given the circumstances and fully justified. Further, we strongly deny the allegations in Ms. Fisher's complaint and will vigorously defend our position in the courts."

The home care group is owned and run by Johns Hopkins Health System and the Johns Hopkins University and offers a range of home care services.

Fisher could not be reached for comment.