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EEOC sues staffing agency after worker fired at Walter Reed

A Texas-based health care staffing agency is facing a federal lawsuit for firing an employee with sickle-cell anemia working at Walter Reed Military Medical Center instead of reassigning her to another position.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has accused Dependable Health Services Inc. of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for firing a phlebotomist who was on maternity leave earlier this year, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

Sheena Berry was six months pregnant in September when she had complications from sickle-cell anemia, hindering her ability to lift and bend, the lawsuit states. Berry told the staffing agency about her pregnancy complications and asked to stop working mobile blood drives, a request the company refused at first, the lawsuit states.

Soon after, Berry had premature contractions while working on a mobile blood drive and was hospitalized, according to the complaint. She was then moved to the Out-Patient Phlebotomy Department, a position that did not involve mobile blood drives, according to the complaint. Berry stayed in that department until her child was born.

During her maternity leave, Berry gave the staffing agency continuous updates about her health. In February, she told Dependable Health Services that she would be back at work at the end of the month, according to the complaint. But the day before she was supposed to return, the staffing agency fired Berry, saying it “decided to have (Berry’s) position backfilled effective immediately,” according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief to stop the company from discriminating against disabled workers, the lawsuit states.

“The law is clear – an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to individuals with a disability,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence in a statement. “Instead of reinstating Ms. Berry, or responding to her request to be reassigned to work in the outpatient department, Dependable Health Services abruptly fired her the day before she was set to return to work – and that’s why we filed this suit.”

The EEOC was unable to settle with Dependable Health Services to stop the alleged discriminatory practices, according to the lawsuit.

“Everyone loses when an employer rushes to terminate an employee instead of exploring potential reasonable accommodations, including transfer to a vacant position, that would enable a good worker to remain employed,” said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia district office.

Dependable Health Services did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is EEOC v. Dependable Health Services Inc., 8:17-cv-02316.

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