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EEOC alleges medical firm fired employee with cancer over leave request

A Rockville-based medical practice allegedly fired an employee who had breast cancer rather than accommodate her, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

National Spine & Pain Centers LLC, which has more than 60 offices in Maryland and elsewhere, is accused of denying leave to a patient services coordinator after she notified the company that she would need time off for treatment and surgery following her diagnosis in January 2017.

According to the complaint, filed Jan. 9 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, the employee, who worked at the practice’s Harrisonburg, Virginia, office, requested a week of leave for a procedure and was terminated the day after she made the request. The reason given for her termination was her request for time off when she did not yet qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“People with disabilities sometimes need flexibility to help them cope with serious medical conditions,” Mindy E. Weinstein, acting director of the EEOC’s Washington office, said in a statement. “Employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, such as a modified work schedule, unless doing so would result in undue hardship.”

The EEOC alleges the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate the employee.

“This company could have worked with the employee as she went through treatment and surgery for her breast cancer as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA,” Debra M. Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, said in the EEOC statement. “When employers fail to make a good-faith effort to do this, they violate federal law and are risking litigation.”

The EEOC learned of the employee’s termination while investigating a complaint from another former employee of National Spine & Pain Centers who claimed to have been denied medical leave. Investigators “learned of ADA violations by Defendant against other employees” and issued a letter in July 2018 informing the company of the alleged violations.

Lawrence did not respond to a request for comment on the other alleged violations Monday.

The complaint seeks back pay, front pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.

A spokesman for the company said Monday that it “firmly (denies) the allegations of improper conduct by NSPC, and by its affiliated pain management practices.”

The case is U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. National Spine & Pain Centers LLC, 8:20-cv-00065.


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