EEOC sues Fort Worth rehab center over disability discrimination

Posted Wednesday, May. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A local rehab clinic was sued Tuesday on allegations of disability discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a federal suit that the Fort Worth Center of Rehabilitation rejected the job application of Patsy Roberson after she could not produce a routine urine sample because of kidney failure.

“This employer could have accommodated Ms. Roberson’s disability in several different ways,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District office. “Blood or hair screens are drug tests that do not require a urinalysis.”

Fort Worth Center of Rehabilitation, operated by Skilled Healthcare Group of Foothill Ranch in Southern California’s Orange County, offers inpatient treatment for people dealing with amputations, joint replacements, postsurgical complications, lung and heart conditions, and uncontrolled diabetes. Located in the Hospital District on 12th Avenue, it also works with people dealing with strokes and multiple sclerosis. according to the for-profit clinic’s website.

Skilled Healthcare denied the discrimination claim and said it had tried to work things out, but did not offer specifics.

“We are disappointed at the EEOC’s unfounded allegation,” it said in a statement released by spokeswoman Melody Chatelle of Austin.

“The center attempted to accommodate the applicant, and has tried to work in good faith with the EEOC and the applicant over the last several months to resolve this matter,” Chatelle said. “We welcome the opportunity to ensure the accurate facts come to light before an impartial judge.”

Roberson had more than 15 years’ experience as a certified nursing assistant when she applied for a job at the Fort Worth Center of Rehabilitation in July 2011. She was led to believe she had gotten the job and just needed to complete some human resources paperwork and get a drug test, EEOC attorney Meghan Shepard said.

But when Roberson told a rehab center employee that she could not give a urine sample because of renal failure, the atmosphere immediately changed, Shepard said. She was strung along for weeks and told “we have to check with corporate.” Finally, the 58-year-old single mother of a teenage daughter was told she would not be hired for the $10- to $11-an-hour job.

“The right to a reasonable accommodation extends not just to employees, but also job applicants,” said Shepard, the EEOC’s trial attorney for the case. “Ms. Roberson was denied the opportunity to work because of an unfortunate ignorance of the law.

“The request for accommodation here would not have cost the company any significant amount of money, and it would have gained a great employee in Ms. Roberson,” said the lawyer, who said the suit is seeking the equivalent of pay that a certified nursing assistant would have gotten since July 2011, plus compensatory and punitive damages.

Roberson suffered kidney failure in 2000 and received a transplant in 2007 that was rejected that year. Since being turned away by the rehab center, she has worked as a home health worker, Shepard said. She was recently put back on the eligibility list for another transplant, having had a cancerous tumor removed along with a nonfunctioning kidney, Shepard said.

In February, Skilled Healthcare reached a settlement with California’s attorney general over allegations of neglect and abuse at its 20 nursing homes in the state, Bloomberg News reported. The company agreed to pay $350,000 for two years of surprise inspections. It operates 79 skilled nursing facilities, 22 assisted living facilities, six hospice care services, four home-healthcare agencies and a rehabilitation service provider in 11 states.

Three years earlier, the publicly traded corporation [ticker: SKH] agreed to pay $50 million to end a class-action suit filed by nursing home residents after they won a jury award of $677 million. The case made headlines for months in California because of problems stemming from short staffing and other issues. Skilled Healthcare admitted no wrongdoing

Last week, the Dallas EEOC office won a $240 million federal jury award against a Texas turkey-processing service for keeping 32 men in “virtual enslavement” for years in a dilapidated building in Iowa.

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

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