Blind woman gets $570,000 from Mercy Medical Center for disability discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is based on the principle that every person has the right to have a normal, productive career. The federal disability law bars employers from discriminating against disabled employees. In California, it is illegal for employers with five or more workers to fire someone because of a disability without first discussing reasonable accommodations to help the person continue working. Failure to engage in this two-way interactive process is considered disability discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently ordered Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California to pay $570,000 in damages to a former longtime kitchen worker who was fired after she lost her sight. The government agency filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the hospital in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. As part of the settlement, Mercy Medical Center agreed to adopt important policies to ensure ADA compliance and provide anti-discrimination training to all leaders and employees.

Alina Sorling started working as a food service technician at the hospital in 2004. She performed tasks such as operating the cash register, grilling food and cleaning the cafeteria. In 2014, she had to take unpaid leave after sustaining significant vision loss in both eyes due to an illness.

During her rehabilitation process, Sorling learned nonvisual techniques and other adaptive skills to work safely in a kitchen environment. A year later, she was ready to return to work. Sorling requested her employer to allow a paid analyst from the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) to do a workplace assessment to recommend job-specific accommodations for her disability, such as a talking cash register and a barcode scanner.

However, Mercy Medical Center refused to work with the DOR and failed to offer any alternative accommodations. Instead, Sorling was fired. The hospital claimed it was unable to provide a work environment that would be safe for her and others.

Violations of disability law continue to occur in workplaces today. If you suspect you have experienced discrimination at work because of your disability, discuss your case with the employment lawyers at McCormack & Erlich.

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