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Disability

Court Questions Decision to Fire Injured Nurse

A hospital fired an injured nurse. Now it faces a disability discrimination complaint.
By: | July 24, 2017 • 4 min read

Is an injured nurse a threat to patient safety? That’s what New Jersey-based Saint Clare’s Health System believed.

The nurse in question came back from workers’ comp and disability leave only to be fired. The hospital admitted that the termination of the nurse was directly related to her disability, stating that she could not perform the essential duties of her job.

Further, the hospital argued, she was a danger to other patients because her injuries could prohibit her from completing tasks.

The court disagreed.

Shouldering the Burden

Registered nurse Maryanne Grande worked for Saint Clare’s for seven years before she suffered her first work-related injury in 2007. While moving a patient, Grande injured her left shoulder, resulting in surgery and three months of physical therapy before returning to work on light duty. Grande returned to regular duty one month later.

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In November 2008, Grande reinjured her left shoulder lifting the legs of an overweight patient. She underwent a second surgery and returned to regular duty two months later.

Finally, in 2010, Grande incurred her most recent injury. A patient was attempting to walk around his bed but lost his balance. Grande caught the patient, but feared she had injured her shoulder again.

An MRI showed she’d injured her cervical spine instead. Another surgery and four months of recuperation under her belt, Grande returned to work for two hours before tapping out. She finally returned two weeks later on light duty.

In August of 2008, Saint Clare’s human resources department led a hospital-wide job system analyses for various nursing positions.

The analysis helped the hospital determine what frequency with which job duties were performed and which tasks were essential to each position. For RNs like Grande, an essential task was frequently lifting 50 pounds from waist to chest.

Though cleared to light duty work in July 2010, Grande was informed by the hospital that she would need to undergo a physical test set up by Saint Clare’s. Grande reported to Kinematic Consultants, Inc. (KCI), for a functional capacity evaluation.

KCI determined that Grande “demonstrated maximum effort” and said she could return to work but would need certain accommodations. The report noted that final determination for return to work deferred to her own physician. Grande was re-examined by her doctor, and was cleared to work with certain restrictions, including occasionally lifting items up to 50 pounds instead of frequently lifting that weight and only transferring patients with assistance.

The next day, Saint Clare’s fired Grande.

Back and Forth in Court

Grande filed a two-count complaint against Saint Clare’s: the first for unlawful discrimination based on a disability and the second for unlawful discrimination based on a perceived disability. Saint Clare’s filed for a summary judgment to which Grande filed a cross motion. Summary judgment was given to Saint Clare’s based on Grande’s inability to show she could perform her job in a way that met hospital standards.

Grande brought her case before an appellate division panel that reversed the summary judgment, stating that the case contained several disputable facts that only a jury could resolve. Saint Clare’s appealed.

The case was brought before the New Jersey Supreme Court. There, Saint Clare’s argued that because Grande was on light duty at the time of her discharge, and both her physician and KCI reported that she needed certain accommodations to complete her duties, Grande could not prove she was capable of performing her RN duties as outlined by the hospital.

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Additionally, Saint Clare’s held that because the KCI report provided evidence that Grande’s continued employment was hazardous to her own safety, her work performance could jeopardize the safety of other employees and patients.

Grande countered that the hospital admitted to firing her due to a perceived disability—a prime example of discrimination, she said.

The New Jersey Association for Justice and the National Employment Lawyers Association of New Jersey filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in support of Grande. They argued that Saint Clare’s discriminated against the nurse, improperly assumed that Grande would incur another injury and believed that Saint Clare’s should not have carte blanche to decide the essential functions of a nurse’s job.

The Final Word

Under New Jersey law, employers are prohibited from terminating a disabled employee because of their disability. In this case, the court found that Grande presented a viable discrimination claim.

“When terminating a disabled employee because of an inability to abide by [safety] standards, an employer must prove that its standards relate to the employee’s duties and that no reasonable accommodation exists that will allow the employee to continue in her position,” wrote an associate justice.

The court ruled in favor of Grande, allowing for the nurse to take her trial to court.

Cite: Maryanne Grande, RN, v. Saint Clare’s Health System

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]