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NHRMC denies wrongdoing, settles discrimination suit

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- New Hanover Regional Medical Center will pay $146,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) according to a release on the agency's website. The EEOC had charged that the hospital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by prohibiting applicants and employees from working if they were taking legally prescribed narcotic medications.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit in federal court, several applicants and employees were not hired or placed on leave by the hospital because they were taking prescribed narcotic medications. The complaint alleged that such action was taken because NHRMC perceived persons taking narcotic medications as being disabled as defined by the ADA.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC said. So it filed suit after first attempting to reach a settlement.

In addition to the $146,000 in damages to be divided among the claimants, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires that New Hanover Regional Medical Center revise its alcohol and drug abuse policy, its post-employment offer medical assessment policy and its medical examination policy. The company must also provide annual training to its managers and supervisors on the ADA and that ADA's prohibition against disability discrimination in the workplace. New Hanover Regional Medical Center must also post an employee notice concerning the lawsuit and employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as provide periodic reports to the EEOC.

"At New Hanover Regional Medical Center, our number one priority is and will always be patient care and safety," the hospital said in a statement. "We deny any wrongdoing. We stand by our process to assess each individual employee to ensure their medical needs are met and they can safely complete their specific job responsibilities. We have very high standards for our employees because we are entrusted with the health and safety of the patients we serve.

"We agreed to the settlement to limit the financial impact of this case. This is important in these times when we're working so hard to control costs for our patients. The settlement required the hospital to make minor adjustments to our policies and procedures. These adjustments don't substantially change how we manage these cases. NHRMC remains committed to protecting the health and safety of its patients, employees and visitors while complying fully with all employment laws."

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