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

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]