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Court Rules Against OR Nurse in $1.6M Disability Discrimination Claim

A veteran perioperative services nurse who alleged that Virginia's Prince William Health System fired her unfairly after she injured her back and could no longer move heavy patients has lost her bid to recoup more than $1.6 million in damages from the hospital system.

Theresa Griffin, RN, who had worked for the system since 1997, suffered a back injury in 2003 that rendered her incapable of lifting more than 40 lbs. The hospital in Manassas, Va., accommodated this restriction of her job duties for more than 7 years. Then in June 2010, hospital administration told Ms. Griffin that it "could no longer accommodate her" and terminated her employment, according to court documents.

http://www.outpatientsurgery.net/news/2011/05/3-Court-Rules-Against-OR-Nurse-in-1-6M-Disability-Discrimination-Claim

jeckrn, BSN, RN

Specializes in EMT, ER, Homehealth, OR.

Be reading the article it sounds like there is also some underlying issues between the nurse and the facility that finally came to a head. Not sure what those issues are so I am not agreeing or disagreeing with the verdict.

Jolie, BSN

Specializes in Maternal - Child Health.

The article did not indicate that the back injury occured on the job.

If it did not, I am amazed that any employer accomodated such significant restrictions for 7 years.

BabyLady, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU, Post-partum.

I agree with both of the above posts.

Also, people don't understand, if you have a disability, you cannot just show up to work one day and say, "Oh, by the way, my physician said I cannot life more than 40 lbs" and never show anything to back it up as far as documentation.

The ADA requires the facility to make "reasonable" accomodations, they do not require that they make heroic or totally cost ineffective accomodations. She can also move to other areas of the hospital.

However, if she had been able to show documentation, if I was the judge, I would have awarded her the money. Because if the facility was able to accomodate her for 7 years, then why all the sudden stop?

SitcomNurse

Specializes in Geriatrics and Quality Improvement,.

Really? If I had shown up for my job and not been able to lift anything heavier than 40#, I would have been given reasonable accomodations as well. Then I would have taken it upon myself to increase my education, so I could change to a position that did not put undue burden on my co-workers because I could not totally fulfill my job description abilites.

SHE should have taken the initiative to improve herself, even under the companies footing the bill or not.

Where is that mentioned? I know that if I had someone working with me that couldnt do the job, Id be encouraging them to find a nice desk job SOMEWHERE!

Just my :twocents:

However, if she had been able to show documentation, if I was the judge, I would have awarded her the money. Because if the facility was able to accomodate her for 7 years, then why all the sudden stop?

but she didn't (provide the needed documents).

as stated, i believe there's a lot we don't know.

from what i'm reading, everything sounds legit.

i'm glad she decided to drop the race charge.

leslie

It's a good ruling. Whether she had documentation or not, she does not have a disability under the ADA definition (which is defined as having/had/being considered to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more activities of daily living like walking, getting dressed, doing personal care, eating, etc.).

I am blown away that her employer accommodated her about one of the core functions of her job for as long as they did, especially if the injury was not sustained while working at the facility.

It's a good ruling. Whether she had documentation or not, she does not have a disability under the ADA definition (which is defined as having/had/being considered to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more activities of daily living like walking, getting dressed, doing personal care, eating, etc.).

i agree, the ada would be the determining factor here.

i agree, good call.:)

leslie

BabyLady, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU, Post-partum.

It's a good ruling. Whether she had documentation or not, she does not have a disability under the ADA definition (which is defined as having/had/being considered to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more activities of daily living like walking, getting dressed, doing personal care, eating, etc.).

I am blown away that her employer accommodated her about one of the core functions of her job for as long as they did, especially if the injury was not sustained while working at the facility.

Well, I disagree because had she had documentation from her physician, that may have made it more clear, but she did not. I am sure she was given ample opportunities to provide that information and did not comply.

A disability under the ADA does not have to "substantially" limit your daily activities. There are many, many people in this country that have bona-fide disablities that are 100% able to care for themselves quite well.

Not being able to do the job that you one did, because you have a weight restriction (let's assume her case was valid for a moment), that can substantially cut your income, qualifies.

What if someone is missing an arm? But they can cook, dress themselves, maintain a home, a bank account, etc...would you say that they do not have a disability? ADA says they do.

Someone that is blind or deaf...these people live 100% independently. Would you say they do not have a disability? Because ADA says they do.

MunoRN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

Well, I disagree because had she had documentation from her physician, that may have made it more clear, but she did not. I am sure she was given ample opportunities to provide that information and did not comply.

A disability under the ADA does not have to "substantially" limit your daily activities. There are many, many people in this country that have bona-fide disablities that are 100% able to care for themselves quite well.

Not being able to do the job that you one did, because you have a weight restriction (let's assume her case was valid for a moment), that can substantially cut your income, qualifies.

What if someone is missing an arm? But they can cook, dress themselves, maintain a home, a bank account, etc...would you say that they do not have a disability? ADA says they do.

Someone that is blind or deaf...these people live 100% independently. Would you say they do not have a disability? Because ADA says they do.

Under the ADA, an impairment does have to substantially limit one or more major life activities. Someone missing an arm who is not significantly limited in one or major activities still qualifies under the ADA because it covers individuals with both actual and perceived limitations.

This is where the Nurse's lawyers missed their opportunity. A lifting limit of 40 lbs is nowhere near qualifying as a "substantial limitation" and therefore is not covered by the ADA (no nurse should be lifting more than 50 lbs anyway). Although the Nurse's employers apparently saw the 40 lb lifting restriction as enough of a "substantial limitation" to terminate her, so there seems to be a well established perception of substantial limitation on the part of her employer, which is enough to qualify for ADA protection under part 3. In the end though, she sort of deserved to lose, $1.6 million for a few months of lost wages is a bit greedy.

BabyLady, BSN, RN

Specializes in NICU, Post-partum.

Under the ADA, an impairment does have to substantially limit one or more major life activities. Someone missing an arm who is not significantly limited in one or major activities still qualifies under the ADA because it covers individuals with both actual and perceived limitations.

This is where the Nurse's lawyers missed their opportunity. A lifting limit of 40 lbs is nowhere near qualifying as a "substantial limitation" and therefore is not covered by the ADA (no nurse should be lifting more than 50 lbs anyway). Although the Nurse's employers apparently saw the 40 lb lifting restriction as enough of a "substantial limitation" to terminate her, so there seems to be a well established perception of substantial limitation on the part of her employer, which is enough to qualify for ADA protection under part 3. In the end though, she sort of deserved to lose, $1.6 million for a few months of lost wages is a bit greedy.

Did you read the article? My original post was from the standpoint was IF she had provided documentation she should have won the case.

I will argue with you that not being able to fully function at your job to the point where you may have to change careers would qualify as a major life activity.

The article clearly stated that the facility made accomodations for her for seven years. If I was the judge, I would say, "apparently it was cost-effective for seven years...why the problem now?".

We don't know ultimately what happened, but I would wager there was another reason they got rid of her, but if I had been the judge, she would have been awarded not the amount she was seeking, but a good chunk of it.

Did you read the article? My original post was from the standpoint was IF she had provided documentation she should have won the case.

I'm an incomplete quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair. Believe me, I understand and appreciate your argument that people with disabilities can be independent. That doesn't, however, change the definition of a person with a disability under the ADA, which states that the individual must have "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits, have previously substantially limited, or be perceived as substantially limiting one or more major life activities."

Examples of major life activities are walking, seeing, hearing, caring for oneself (getting dressed, performing basic hygiene), etc.

"Substantially limits" is defined as someone who is either enable to perform a task that the average person can perform with little or no difficulty OR is "significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity." Using your examples, a person with one arm may be able to dress herself, but the manner in which she does is significantly restricted compared to the average person.

If her back injury was so significant that she had difficulty dressing herself, ambulating, showering, etc., she would be considered disabled. But in and of itself, being unable to lift more than 40 pounds is NOT a major life activity. Therefore, this woman does not qualify as disabled under the ADA, regardless of how much documentation she has from her doctor.

I will argue with you that not being able to fully function at your job to the point where you may have to change careers would qualify as a major life activity.

You can argue that definition of major life activity all you want, but the judge must base his ruling on the definition set forth in the law. Being unable to work at all constitutes a major life activity, but on its own, being unable to perform the core functions of one specific job -- in this case, an OR nurse -- does not.

The article clearly stated that the facility made accomodations for her for seven years. If I was the judge, I would say, "apparently it was cost-effective for seven years...why the problem now?".

If she were a person with a disability, that would be the core argument as to why she should be awarded the money. But because she is not disabled under the definition set forth in the ADA, her employer was under no legal obligation to make reasonable accommodations but did so at their own discretion. In 2010, the facility elected to no longer make those accommodations, and since she was unable to perform an essential function of the job without those accommodations, she was let go.

MunoRN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

Did you read the article? My original post was from the standpoint was IF she had provided documentation she should have won the case.

I will argue with you that not being able to fully function at your job to the point where you may have to change careers would qualify as a major life activity.

The article clearly stated that the facility made accomodations for her for seven years. If I was the judge, I would say, "apparently it was cost-effective for seven years...why the problem now?".

We don't know ultimately what happened, but I would wager there was another reason they got rid of her, but if I had been the judge, she would have been awarded not the amount she was seeking, but a good chunk of it.

She would not have won if she had documentation. The validity of the lifting restriction was not questioned, the Judge ruled specifically that her lifting restriction did not constitute a disability under ADA (regardless if it was valid or not).

Just because the employer worked with the lifting restriction for 7 years doesn't mean they are obligated to continue to do.

From the article: "Last week, Judge Claude M. Hilton of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., threw out Ms. Griffin's case, ruling that although she couldn't lift more than 40 lbs., the nurse did not suffer a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 'A general restriction on the amount one can lift does not necessarily rise to a level of substantial limitation,' wrote the judge."

Edited by MunoRN

Under the ADA, an impairment does have to substantially limit one or more major life activities. Someone missing an arm who is not significantly limited in one or major activities still qualifies under the ADA because it covers individuals with both actual and perceived limitations.

This is where the Nurse's lawyers missed their opportunity. A lifting limit of 40 lbs is nowhere near qualifying as a "substantial limitation" and therefore is not covered by the ADA (no nurse should be lifting more than 50 lbs anyway). Although the Nurse's employers apparently saw the 40 lb lifting restriction as enough of a "substantial limitation" to terminate her, so there seems to be a well established perception of substantial limitation on the part of her employer, which is enough to qualify for ADA protection under part 3. In the end though, she sort of deserved to lose, $1.6 million for a few months of lost wages is a bit greedy.

remember, she was going for racial injustice, too, at the start. Also, would you consider that figure too high if a doctor claimed disability? It's really not that much money now.

I would love to know who really messed up in this case - her or her attorney, for not producing proper documentation. Or was it lost by the Court clerk or what?

I don't know much about ADA at all. But I am glad to know it also covers perceived matters.

Can't help but think about that woman who lost both hands to infection and the insurer won't pay for a pair of new hands at $50K. They will cover old style hooks and harnesses or just plain hooks. She will be going on disability, she says, but would not have to with the new "actual" hands. Even if she could get just 1 hand for $25K it would be helpful to her. Such horrible decisions people are forced to deal with in this life.

DSkelton711

Specializes in OB/GYN/Neonatal/Office/Geriatric.

It doesn't sound like anyone messed up. She did not meet ADA requirements and the hospital was not obligated to accomodate her. Simple. She should be grateful they accomodated her for as long they did. I like the suggestion to change her specific career choice, but increasing one's education level costs money that some simply do not have (I am on disability now but would love to be able to earn my MSN. Unfortunately, I cannot afford it and I cannot take on loans.).

gentlegiver, ASN, LPN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics.

Not to hi-jack the thread but I question why she originally filed Racial Discrimination with her law suit and why she later dropped it? As for the amount of the suit, was she thinking that she would no longer be hirable and therefore asking for a larger amount to cover future living expenses? I have to agree that had she provided the documentation proving her injury this may have turned out differently. My BF is medically retired on a back disability, he has to have a physical every year and provide documentation to his employer showing continuing disability in order to continue recieving Disability/Retirement Payments. Perhaps her lawyer dropped the ball by not having her examined to prove the disability?

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