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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Maine Supreme Court rules hospital did not discriminate against nurse over disability

By Tricia Erickson | Aug 2, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (Legal Newsline) – Mercy Hospital did not discriminate against a registered nurse and did not violate the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) when the hospital terminated the employee because she did not meet the MHRA’s standard of a “qualified individual with a disability” according to the Maine Supreme Court.

On July 20, the court ruled against Beth Carnicella, a registered nurse once employed at Mercy who challenged a lower court’s summary judgment decision in favor of Mercy. She claims she was terminated because of her disability and that Mercy failed to provide reasonable accommodations for her.

The high court defined in its ruling that the MHRA differs from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in that MHRA does not make employers provide leave from work as a form of a reasonable accommodation to an employee unable to work.

According to the court, Carnicella never established she was able to return to work after medical leave because none of her medical providers had ever cleared her to work. The MHRA allows an employer to terminate an employee who is unable to perform work duties.

“Because Carnicella did not have medical clearance to return to work, she was thus unable to perform the essential functions of her job at the time that she was terminated,” the Maine Supreme Court ruling said. 

“Therefore, because Carnicella was unable to perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation, there is no genuine issue of material fact that she is not a qualified individual with a disability, and the district court properly granted summary judgment on her disability discrimination claim.”

Carnicella began working at Mercy Express Care facility as a part-time registered nurse in 2011. Starting in August 2013, she had to take leave for surgery for a serious medical diagnosis. However, Carnicella developed health complications from the treatment and Mercy granted three leave extension requests through March 2014.

During a meeting with Carnicella in January 2014, Mercy informed her that if she could not return to work by March, she could instead become a per diem employee. The human resources director contacted Carnicella in March via voicemail concerning her work status. 

In a returned voicemail, Carnicella told the director she could not return to work. Following the voicemail exchange, the director thought Carnicella meant she did not want to come back to work on a per diem basis and terminated Carnicella.

After Carnicella had received her termination notice, she contacted Mercy and explained she did still want to be a per diem employee. Mercy restored her employment status, and Carnicella remained employed per diem with Mercy as of July 20, 2016. However, Carnicella’s medical provider has still not cleared her to return to work without restrictions.

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