FHCN settles fed lawsuit for $1.75 mil.

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Lawsuit alleged Family HealthCare Network policy fired employees due to disabilities and/or pregnancies

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

FRESNO – Family HealthCare Network settled a decade-old discrimination complaint by agreeing to pay $1.75 million in relief.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on Dec. 6 the Visalia-based health care company, which operates 26 health care centers in Tulare, Kings and Fresno Counties, will pay $1.75 million and furnish other relief. EEOC filed the lawsuit after workers alleged there was “a systemic discrimination” against disabiled and pregnant employees. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Family HealthCare Network (FHCN) used its rigid leave policies and practices to deny reasonable accommodations to its disabled and/or pregnant employees, refusing to accommodate them with additional leave and firing them when they were unable to return to work at the end of their leave. In some instances, Family HealthCare discharged individuals before they had even exhausted their approved leave and failed to rehire them when they tried to return to work.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Brandon Foster, FHCN’s chief quality and compliance officer, said the issues raised by the lawsuit are more than 10 years old and that FHCN was not found liable for having done anything illegal.

“The EEOC’s goals and our goals are aligned,” Foster said. “We all want a workplace free of discrimination.”
In addition to the $1.75 million in monetary relief, the three-year consent decree requires FHCN to retain an EEO monitor to review and revise the company’s policies, as appropriate. The company is also implementing effective training on preventing discrimination and harassment based on disability and/or sex-pregnancy for the owners, human resources and supervisory personnel and staff. Additionally, Family HealthCare has developed a centralized tracking system for employee requests for accommodations and discrimination complaints. The company is also required to submit regular reports to the EEOC verifying compliance with the decree.

Foster noted that FHCN has not had any issues reported to the EEOC since the changes were implemented.

“We want our staff to feel there are no concerns about working here,” Foster said.
Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District, which includes Tulare, Kings and Fresno Counties, commended FHCN’s efforts to resolve this case and provide substantial relief to those affected by the company’s policies and practices.

Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC’s Fresno Local Office, added, “The EEOC continues to see cases in which employers have a rigid leave policy that discriminates against individuals with disabilities or pregnant employees. We are encouraged by Family HealthCare’s desire to resolve this complaint and put in place policies to ensure that all employees are treated equitably under the law.”

One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities as well as accommodating pregnancy-related issues under the ADA and the PDA.

EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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