By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On November 4, 2020, a Florida federal court judge ruled that a Tampa-based pediatric medical group cannot escape a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit, denying its attempts to dismiss the case. According to the federal agency, Pediatric Health Care Alliance unlawfully retaliated against a nurse after the nurse reported a doctor for sexual harassment. U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber denied the medical group’s motion to dismiss, saying it neglected to confront or defend against the nurse’s claim that the medical group demoted her as punishment.
The EEOC Complaint: Nurse Forced to Quit After Reporting Sexual Harassment.
On June 22, 2020, the EEOC filed an employment lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. According to the complaint, a female nurse at Pediatric Alliance reported that a doctor at the company inappropriately touched her on two different occasions. Notably, that doctor was also the Vice President (VP) of the company.
According to the suit, the nurse suffered almost immediate retaliation for filing the complaint against the VP. The EEOC alleges that Pediatric Alliance transferred her to a different location against her wishes, replaced her nursing duties with administrative ones, and docked her pay. As a direct consequence of the retaliation, the EEOC contends that the long-time employee was, in effect, forced to resign.
To read the EEOC’s press release on the lawsuit, click here.
To read the EEOC’s lawsuit, in this case, click here.
Retaliation for filing A Sexual Harassment Complaint is Unlawful, Even if it Later Turns Out the Complaint Wasn’t Valid: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), employees have a legal right to raise workplace discrimination or harassment complaints. If an employee exercises this right, their company or organization is strictly prohibited from retaliating against them for doing so. Employers cannot take adverse employment action against an employee in retaliation for making a formal or informal complaint of harassment.
Adverse action occurs when an employee is penalized or punished in some form. In this case, transferring the nurse to a less desirable location, reducing salary, and taking away job duties are all examples of adverse action.
Analysis of the Ruling.
In this case, the defendant’s medical group/employer tried to get the court to dismiss the lawsuit (complaint) based on the EEOC’s earlier determination that the nurse failed to sufficiently support charges of sexual harassment. If the employer had not retaliated against the nurse, in this case, would have then been over. But that didn’t happen. The complaint asserted a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII, not sexual harassment.
The court also noted that the medical group did not argue that the EEOC’s retaliation allegation was insufficient. Accordingly, the judge denied the motion to dismiss filed by Pediatric Alliance, the employer.
To view the court’s opinion in full, click here.
Tips for Employers to Avoid EEOC Complaints.
1. The employer should adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination and harassment.
2. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees are instructed on a regular basis about what situations are considered sexual harassment or discrimination.
3. Make sure your officers, supervisors, and key employees sign a statement each year, stating that they are aware of the company’s “zero tolerance” policy and what constitutes harassment and discrimination.
4. Establish a method by which employees can submit reports of harassment and discrimination without the perpetrator becoming aware of it. This should be part of the employer’s compliance program.
5. Be sure your company or group has a good directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance and excess liability insurance policy that covers sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
6. Include an indemnification clause in the contracts of officers, supervisors, and key employees, requiring them to indemnify the employer in any case where the employer is held liable for acts of sexual harassment or discrimination.
7. Be sure that an employee who files a complaint does not have adverse employment action taken against him or her, especially based solely upon the word of the person against whom the complaint was filed. Bring a human relations expert in as early as possible to consult on the case, as well as an employment law defense attorney.
8. Make sure that all employees, including officers, supervisors, and key personnel, receive training once a year on avoiding sexual harassment and discrimination and document it in their personnel/human resources file. Hiring an outside trainer can make this less burdensome and more enjoyable. Again, this should be part of the employer’s compliance plan.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Talk to an Experienced Attorney Now.
Florida workers have a right to report sexual harassment or discrimination without facing retribution, but workers often file complaints that are not valid. The EEOC advances opportunities in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Find out how The Health Law Firm can help if you are an employer that finds itself in this legal situation.
Additionally, please read one of our recent blogs dealing with a similar EEOC lawsuit.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.
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Shanes, Alexis. “Fla. Pediatric Group Can’t Dodge EEOC Retaliation Suit.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.
“EEOC Sues Pediatric Health Care Alliance for Retaliation Over Harassment Complaints.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (June 22, 2020). Web.
Bean, Mackenzie. “Florida practice retaliated against nurse for reporting harassment, EEOC says.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (November 9, 2020). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714. Call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620.
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