EEOC sues nursing home after it fires pregnant, disabled worker

A South Carolina skilled nursing facility fired an employee because of her disability and pregnancy, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

NHC Healthcare, a Clinton, SC-based licensed nursing center, hired Tonya Aria as a full-time LPN in February 2002. According to the EEOC lawsuit, NHC was aware that Aria suffers from paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, a condition that can cause rapid heart rate, tunnel vision and blackouts if not controlled by medication.

In December 2012, Aria learned she was pregnant and stopping taking medication for her PSVT due to the effects it could have on her unborn child. As a result, Aria's PSVT became uncontrolled and her normal pregnancy symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea, were made worse. After taking three days off of work for bed rest, Aria was fired by NHC.

The EEOC alleges that NHC Healthcare failed to accommodate Aria's pregnancy by allowing medical leave, and fired her because of her pregnancy and disability. The EEOC seeks back pay, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for Aria, for NHC Healthcare's alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

While Aria had a pre-existing condition at the time she became pregnant, Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office, notes there is some overlap between the ADA and the PDA in terms of disabilities developed while pregnant.

"Employees who do not have a pre-existing disability, but who develop medical conditions that meet the ADA's definition of 'disability' as a result of becoming pregnant, are also protected from disability discrimination,” Barnes wrote in an EEOC statement. “Employers must be aware of this intersection between Title VII's pregnancy discrimination prohibition and the ADA."

This intersection between the PDA and the ADA has created issues for long-term care facilities in the past, most notably in 2011 when a court ruled that a nursing home employee's pregnancy did not count as a disability.

A phone call seeking comment from was not returned Wednesday afternoon.

NHC Healthcare had not responded to a phone call from McKnight's as of press time.