Redding Woman Prevails in EEOC Lawsuit: Former Employer Dignity Health to Pay $570,000 Settlement

Dignity Health’s Mercy Medical Center in Redding. Photo source: dignityhealth.org.

On Nov. 11, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Dignity Health, alleging a violation of federal disability law.  The case centers around an employee of Mercy Medical Center Redding who was allegedly fired from her job after the loss of her vision.

Alina Sorling and the EEOC were assisted in their lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind.  On Thur., Sept. 19, the EEOC announced that Dignity Health had settled the case for $570,000, an amount that will compensate Sorling for her lost wages, damages and attorney fees.

Sorling had been employed at Mercy Medical Center for 10 years as a food service technician when an illness caused her to sustain significant vision loss.  She took an unpaid leave of absence from her cafeteria job to complete a rehabilitation process before attempting to return to work with accommodations, according to the EEOC.

But Dignity Health fired her instead, according to the lawsuit. Dignity, which the EEOC refers to as the 5th largest health system in the United States and largest health provider in California, cited their inability to provide a working environment that would be safe for both Sorling and others, given her new disability.  According to the EEOC case, after her vision loss, Sorling was told by Dignity Health that her former job as a food service technician requires 20/40 vision, even though, according to the EEOC, she was never previously vision-tested in her 10 years of employment for Dignity Health.

Sorling’s offer to bring in a paid analyst from the California Department of Rehabilitation to work with Mercy Medical Center on providing accommodations for her disability was declined, according to an EEOC attorney.

Dignity Health, which operates under the tagline, Hello Humankindness, states on its website that dignity means “showing respect for all people by providing excellent care and helping them lead meaningful lives.”

Screen grab: dignityhealth.org

Dignity Health issued this statement in response to the settlement:  “Dignity Health values their employees and supports those with disabilities.  For this particular situation, after months of time and effort, we were not able to provide an accommodation to address Ms. Sorling’s needs without compromising her safety and the safety of others. This resolution will allow Ms. Sorling to move forward with her life and we wish her the very best.”

As part of the settlement agreement, Dignity Health will enact new training for leaders and employees to help them recognize and respond appropriately to discrimination in the workplace.

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Tim says:

    Weaponized socialism. Imagine the lawsuit Dignity would have faced if they lost a patient with a food allergy.

  2. Avatar Tony Ten Broeck says:

    Before you grab a slogan name please examine the reason you used it. There are many isms whose names are flung about to try to grab emotional response. This does nothing to solve our biggest problem: failure to look at a way to resolve problems instead of getting angry about them. Reacting emotionally to a problem rarely does anyone any good. It won’t provide a path to solution.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    This is the same Dignity Health that employs Van Mol and Winter and that attempted to merge with the UC system but was rejected after numerous complaints. And Tony Ten Broeck, Dignity didn’t exactly “look at a way to resolve problems instead of getting angry about them. Reacting emotionally to a problem rarely does anyone any good. It won’t provide a path to solution.” They fired this long-term employee, and it cost them over half a million dollars.

    • Avatar Rob Belgeri says:

      I’d been following the Dignity/UC merger deal. Did that go under for good? Had it gone through, it would have had a profoundly negative effect on women’s reproductive health rights with the UC health system.

  4. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    Since Sorling settled rather than go to trial, I’m left presuming that she was OK with the $570,000, after attorney fees and expenses. She could have quadrupled that in court if she won, but in this county, where otherwise sane people call a fair settlement amount runaway socialism, ya never know. Good for her, and hope she goes on to a career with a more understanding employer.

    • Avatar Tim says:

      Dignity had the stronger case, but it would take ~5 years in court and hundreds of thousands in legal fees that they’d be unable to reclaim so it was cheaper for them to pay her to go away. The job position summary & qualifications clearly imply a vision requirement:

      ———-
      Position Summary:

      The Food Service Associate, under the direction of the Dietary Supervisor and/or Executive Chef, performs duties in some or all of the areas of service in order to provide food services to patient and non-patient populations throughout the hospital and to all customers.
      Duties may include, but are not limited to, working the cash register, serving meals on the line in cafe or patient tray lines, stocking refrigerators, stocking all areas of the cafe, cold prep, washing pots and pans, washing dishes, mopping, delivering trays to patients, delivering to or picking up catering events and general cleaning in the Food & Nutrition Department.

      Qualifications

      Minimum Required:
      High School Diploma, GED or equivalent technical training.
      Special Skills:
      Ability to read, write and speak English proficiently.
      Must be able to compute simple arithmetic: adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying.
      Ability to read and comprehend simple instructions, short correspondence and memos in the English language.
      ————

      There’s no reasonable accommodation for a blind person when the position requires so many diverse and visually intensive tasks like

      Cashiering: How do you appropriately ring up non barcoded items like cafeteria food if you can’t see? How do you ensure people aren’t walking by with unpaid items? How do you accept and make change when all US bille are the same size & shape? How do you know when someone spills food near your workstation?

      Stocking refrigerator: How do you sort items by expiration date to reduce food waste? How do you know when a sealed item is past expiration?

      Cleaning dishes: How do you know if/when the pots & dishes are free of food & soap residue?

      Mopping: How do you tell when one part of the floor needs extra scrubbing (shoe scuff mark, etc) or when the bucket water needs to be changed?

      Serving food onto trays: How do you know where to place the food without pawing the customer’s tray and food? How do you know if you short scooped them? How can you efficiently scoop the last bit of food from the serving pans?

      Add in the fact that she’d be dealing with an extremely sensitive population of hospital patients and she is literally a liability. Better to pay her to stay away than risk her inadvertently pushing some poor patient into an early grave via food poisoning or food allergy.

  5. Avatar Patricia Carver says:

    I’d like to know if Dignity tried to find her another position even if it meant a pay increase. Maybe they could have created a new position where her skills, not necessarily from food prep but I other sets of skills.

    Dignity’s response didn’t say how they tried to make accommodations for her. As a former Labor Representative Intern and employee representative I’ve been in many meetings of “accommodations” where the only accommodation HR was willing to accept was early retirement.

  6. Avatar Nicholas ismael says:

    You must be lucky in nj as an employee to prevail. Eeoc always minimizes employee’s proof by 90% settling en favor of the sttongest side, en other words: employers.

  7. Avatar Striker says:

    All hospitals are MRSA breading grounds. Lucky are the ones who make it out alive.

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