U.S. Supreme Court: Nurse can sue state board

  1. U.S. Supreme Court: Nurse can sue state board

    Legal Affairs Writer

    Last update: 03 June 2004

    DAYTONA BEACH -- A brain-injured South Daytona woman will have her day in court.

    Elizabeth Feaster, 42, won a major victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she should be allowed to sue the Florida Board of Nursing for requiring her to participate in a program designed for nurse substance abusers.

    Her attorney said Feaster, who graduated from the registered nurse degree program at Daytona Beach Community College four years ago, was stigmatized within the nursing profession by being lumped in with nurses who have drug and alcohol problems.

    "We believe a jury of regular people will think it's outrageous the way the board treated her," said her attorney, Jimmy Charles of Osceola County.

    Feaster had filed suit in Duval County circuit court in July 2001 against the Florida Department of Health charging it violated her rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The board was based in Duval County at that time.

    While a student in the DBCC nursing program, Feaster required special accommodations under the Disabilities Act because she suffered a brain injury in 1998 that interfered with her ability to concentrate on academic examinations.

    Feaster was given extra time and a private setting for testing at DBCC, as well as a note taker during classroom lectures, Charles said.

    Despite her disability, she graduated from the nursing program with honors, he said.

    But when Feaster applied to the state Board of Nursing for licensure, she was told she would have to participate in the Intervention Program for Nurses -- a program for "impaired practitioners" -- before she would be allowed to take the nursing board exam, because of her disability.

    The program is described on the state Department of Health Web site as "a program that provides close monitoring of nurses who are unsafe to practice due to impairment as a result of misuse or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or both, or due to a mental of physical condition which could affect the licensee's ability to practice with skill and safety."

    Following nearly three years of litigation, Feaster now has won the right to challenge that placement.

    "I was extremely thrilled," she said Wednesday of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision. "Justice has been served. I look forward to my day in court."

    The Florida Attorney General defended the state nursing board and opposed Feaster's lawsuit, claiming the state was immune to such a suit. The circuit court agreed with the position of the Attorney General and dismissed Feaster's lawsuit, prompting a series of appeals.

    All that changed last week when the nation's highest court ruled the state's immunity did not apply in cases like this.

    Athough the Supreme Court didn't hear arguments on Feaster's case, it ruled in her favor after hearing arguments on a case that preceded hers and involved similar facts, Charles said.

    Feaster "will now have her opportunity to be heard in the courts for enforcement of her rights under Title II of the ADA," Charles said.

    "All we wanted from the beginning was for Elizabeth to have her day in court."

  2. Visit nursebedlam profile page

    About nursebedlam

    Joined: Jan '04; Posts: 5,016; Likes: 14


  3. by   chris_at_lucas_RN
    Sounds like the individual(s) making the "impaired practitioner" requirement weren't paying attention when they were in school!!!
  4. by   elkpark
    While I'm certainly not trying to argue that I'm sure the BON was right, it does sound like this woman may have
    a mental or physical condition which could affect the licensee's ability to practice with skill and safety
    -- the article talks about her needing extra time and a private setting for exams at school because of her disability, and we all know that you often don't get the luxury of extra time and a quiet, private setting to make critical decisions in nursing practice ... The BON's job is to protect the public by ensuring that nurses are able to practice safely; they may have felt that they needed to see her in action to make a determination about her ability to practice safely, which doesn't sound unreasonable to me. I'm also pretty sure that there's quite a bit more to this situation than was in the newspaper article, since that's how these things usually work!

    A lot more information will come out in the lawsuit -- I'll look forward to hearing more about this situation.
  5. by   mattsmom81
    TPTB would have been wise here to just let this woman try to find and keep a job. I believe her requirements for 'reasonable accomodation' will not be realistic in this career of nursing she has chosen. Being mildly ADD myself, it has been hard for me in the workplace and I don't know how this nurse can realistically expect to be allowed 'time alone and unhindered' on the job...its not what nursing is. Now there will be a huge legal bruhaha...when if they would have let her go she would have likely been either weeded out or she would have found a place for herself that works for her.

    What bothers me sometimes is how nurses with 40 yrs experience would like to transition into a desk/less stressful job but it is given to a new grad with a disability of some kind who has demanded she/he be accomodated. Where is the caring for our own in this profession...sometimes I wonder. The squeaky wheel seems to get the grease. So many older nurses who have been hurt on the job are simply run off...and a new grad takes the job they could have done. This doesn't seem right to me...but if wishes were horses, eh?

    Such is life.
  6. by   fergus51
    Here thanks to the heavily unionized environment, senior nurses are the first to transition to desk and day jobs. I have never met a new nurse who got "accomodated" into one of those gigs.
  7. by   mattsmom81
    Everytime you post I miss my former life in the Northland...where life made more sense Fergus...it really is a whole 'nuther world down here in the nonunion south.

    DH is in New Brunswick on a business trip...having a great time and says it reminds him of 'home'. (northern Minnesota)
  8. by   fergus51
    We're always recruiting Course, the weather isn't near as nice

    Seriously, many of the public health nurses I knew in BC were former hospital nurses who had been injured on the job. Even here in the NICU, several of my coworkers were injured in other areas of the hospital (on adult wards) and were retrained to work in the NICU, since we have no heavy lifting in our unit. Plus we have a lot of nurses on modified work schedules (all day shifts, only 4-8 hr shifts, limited duty, etc).