Physically Taxing: Historic Nursing Gender-Discrimination Suit Settled

  1. Nursing is a tough job - but, is it physically taxing? Here you will learn how the City of New York denied pension benefits to a class of nurses and how they fought back.

    Physically Taxing: Historic Nursing Gender-Discrimination Suit Settled

    Women have been fighting for gender equality for decades. These battles have taken the form of the right to vote, the right to control their bodies, and the right to equal pay and opportunity in the workplace. Nursing might be a female-dominated industry, but it's not immune to gender-discrimination against women. A recent historical settlement is raising the bar for female nurses for the future.

    Is Nursing Physically Taxing?

    Before we discuss the settlement - let's recognize a fact that nurses have known for generations - nursing is hard work. But, for many years, there has been a perception that because nursing positions are primarily held by women, it is not a physically taxing occupation.

    However, the statistics tell a different story:
    • Healthcare occupations are among the highest of all U.S industries for musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion
    • The most significant risk factor for overexertion injuries in healthcare workers is manual lifting, moving, and repositioning of patients
    • 1 in 4 nurses have been physically assaulted while at work
    • An estimated 82% of nurses report being at a significant risk of workplace stress
    • Nurses have a high chance of contact with infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi

    New York City Pension Plan

    In 1965, New York City, like many other employers, created a pension plan for employees. Under the standard pension, employees could retire with full benefits at the age of 55 or 57. However, some occupations covered by the pension were deemed "physically demanding," by the city. Staff who filled these physically demanding jobs qualified for early retirement with full pensions as early as age 50. Those who qualified had to be employed a minimum of 25 years with the city at the time of retirement.

    Jobs meeting this classification included Emergency Medical Specialist, Exterminator, Motor Vehicle Dispatcher, Window Cleaner, and Plumbers. All of these positions were primarily filled by male workers. The city also employed nurses, the majority of whom were female.

    Beginning in 2004, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) became involved with this issue. The NYSNA is a labor union representing city-employed registered nurses and midwives. They requested that the City recognize their members for filling physically taxing positions and allow them to receive full pension benefits at the age of 50. The City denied the request in 2004, refusing to recognize the role of the nurses as physically taxing. The NYSNA requested again in 2006 and 2008, only to be denied both years.

    Sometime after 2008, the NYSNA and four members filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It was determined by the EEOC that the city had discriminated against the nurses based on gender in 1968 when the City initially refused to recognize nurses and midwives as a physically taxing occupation and again in 2004, 2006, and 2008. The EEOC sent the matter to the U.S Attorney's Office to be heard.

    On July 18, 2018, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York announced a proposed settlement with the City of New York. This settlement awards $20.8 million to a class of approximately 1,665 registered nurses and midwives who were discriminated against because they were women. The court must still approve the settlement which will award between $1000 and $99,000 to the nurses, depending on their years of service to the city. The agreement also covers all attorney's fees and an additional $100,000 to the four nurses who filed the initial complaint with the EEOC. This settlement is historic.

    Looking Ahead

    Could nurses finally be recognized for the physically demanding work they perform? Nursing is an honorable profession - regardless of the sex of the nurse.

    You go to work each day uncertain of the patients who will come through the doors of the ED. You enter buildings that make police officers uncomfortable just to make sure that patients are taking their medicines and participating in self-care. You deal with physically and mentally taxing situations to save the lives of people you have never met before. But, are you given the respect you deserve?

    Tell us what you think about this settlement. Does it add validity to the physical nature of nursing? Will it help the profession in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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    About Melissa Mills, BSN

    Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She enjoys empowering other nurses to find their passions and create a unique nursing career that fits their passions, desires, and gifts. She is owner of www., a website dedicated to helping women find their creative passions through writing and co-owner of, a start-up Nursing CE company that will offer online courses soon.

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  3. by   traumaRUs
    Great news for nurses.
  4. by   dbabz
    Second day on the floor in SICU. Hurt my back giving compressions to a patient coding. Fortunately, it seems to be healing. Point being that these injuries can come from many different and unanticipated sources. And, yes, I know this is a sign that I need to get in shape.
  5. by   Melissa Mills
    dbabz - We can probably all use a little conditioning - but, the interesting point is that most people don't think of nursing as being physically taxing. Doing compressions on an adult is HARD work, and it is easy to pull a muscle, trip, fall, or worse when you are in the middle of a code. Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. by   karrikon
    I am so happy to hear this. So an exterminator and window washer work harder than a nurse in an ICU, REHAB or Ortho? I highly doubt that. I know a nurse who tore her rotator cuff because she had to act quickly. Her client who had a CVA started to vomit while on his back. If she hadn't quickly turned him, he would have aspirated. 10 years later, she still suffers with shoulder damage and pain. So please NY, don't say that nursing is not physically more demanding than exterminator and window washing!! This is just one of many stories, I am sure.
  7. by   Melissa Mills
    Thanks for the story karrikon! And, yes - I'm sure there are more stories than we can imagine! ~Melissa