EEOC sues nursing home that fired pregnant nursing assistants

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The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a North Carolina nursing home, alleging the facility fired two pregnant employees rather than accommodate work restrictions ordered by their doctors.

According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Scottish Pines Rehabilitation & Nursing Center offered light duty or job modifications to accommodate certified nursing assistants who were injured at work, but refused to grant similar modifications to pregnant CNAs.

In a November 2014 case, the EEOC says Scottish Pines placed CNA Mary Jacobs on unpaid leave when she needed to limit her lifting duties. When her leave expired and she was unable to return to work without restriction, the EEOC alleges the company fired her.

In December 2015, CNA Laketa Watts notified Scottish Pines of her pregnancy-related work restrictions, including a 20-pound lifting restriction. According to the EEOC's suit, the company refused to accommodate Watts' work restrictions. The commission said the accommodations would have been reasonable because the company had mechanical lifting devices to lift patients and allowed CNAs to ask co-workers for help with manual lift patients.

Bob Gilliam, president of Scottish Pines and its management company, told McKnight's Wednesday evening that he had not yet received the lawsuit and could not comment on the specifics of it.

“But we do not believe we discriminated against those employees,” he added.

The EEOC said it tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement before bringing suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The suit seeks policy changes at the company, as well as back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Jacobs and Watts.

“Employers must generally treat the work restrictions of pregnant employees just like those of non-pregnant employees,” Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office, said in a press release. “Companies must be careful not to violate federal anti-discrimination law when they pick and choose which employees to accommodate.”