A proposed class action claims the company that operates the Tidelands Health hospital network has unlawfully discriminated against disabled and female new hires by administering a strength test medical examination prior to employment.
The 35-page lawsuit alleges defendant Georgetown Memorial Hospital’s isokinetic test, which is administered after a job applicant has accepted an offer of employment, “has no direct relationship to any job function” and unlawfully screens out otherwise qualified disabled or female employees without assessing their ability to perform any specific job. Per the suit, the “target-strength” levels new hires must meet in order to pass the test are set “beyond what is required for the job” and have a disparate effect on individuals with disabilities and females, “who tend to have less strength than males.”
The case alleges Tidelands Health administers the post-offer strength test not in accordance with disability laws but in order to “screen out new hires who are likely to increase Defendant’s worker’s comp, health insurance, pharmacy, and disability costs.”
“This is an unlawful use of a medical examination,” the complaint scathes, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
Tidelands Health, the lawsuit explains, is a network of four hospitals and 60 outpatient centers in South Carolina that, since 2010, has required all new hires except physicians to pass an isokinetic strength test in order to begin employment. Per the case, the test is performed using a “Biodex Isokinetic Dynamometer – System 4” machine designed to “[i]dentify, treat and document the physical impairments that cause functional limitations.” Among other uses, the machine is marketed as capable of enabling employers to assess “whether job applicants will become true assets to their workforce – or present risks of injuries, absenteeism and susceptibility to disease,” the suit relays.
According to the case, the machine used for the defendant’s tests measures each new hire’s range of motion, muscle strength and motor function by tracking the individual’s movements against resistance. The amount of resistance applied by the machine varies based on the individual’s height, weight, gender and age, the suit adds, and each job has a target strength of either “light,” “light-medium,” “medium” or “medium-heavy.”
At the end of the test, the new hire’s testing information is sent to third-party vendor Industrial Physical Capability Services (IPSC), who interprets the data and then makes a recommendation to the defendant, the complaint relays. If the individual fails the test, Tidelands Health offers them an opportunity to participate in a 90-day strength training program, after which they can re-take the test, according to the suit. Per the case, Tidelands revokes job offers to those who fail to pass the test after 90 days.
The lawsuit explains that although employers are permitted to administer medical examinations after a job applicant has accepted an offer of employment, the results must be used “in accordance with” disability law and may not be used to screen out individuals with disabilities. Per the complaint, the screening standard must be job-related and “consistent with business necessity.”
Tidelands Health, however, does not assess prospective employees’ ability to safely perform the essential functions of their job and instead uses a measurement of each individual’s ability to move their knees and shoulders “in an obscure concentric range of motion” as the basis to determine whether they can perform the duties of any position in the hospital network’s workforce, the case says.
“At no point during the examination is the new hire asked [sic] engage in a task that simulates the performance of any particular job duty,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit claims Tidelands Health’s testing has the effect of screening out individuals with disabilities without allowing any reasonable accommodations for those who are unable to pass the test. Per the case, Tidelands Health does not individually assess a new hire’s ability to perform the job they were offered or, if they fail the strength test, provide any opportunity to be considered for a position with a lower strength target.
“In such a case, the Defendant does not make any effort to analyze whether there is a reasonable accommodation that will allow the new hire to perform the essential functions of the job or otherwise engage in the interactive process,” the complaint alleges.
The suit claims the purpose of the medical examination is to save the defendant money by reducing the costs of medical leave, insurance and medical treatment, which the case says are often higher for employees with disabilities.
The plaintiff, described in the lawsuit as a highly qualified registered nurse (RN), says she worked for the defendant for several years before leaving for another job “on good terms.” According to the case, the plaintiff then applied for a position with Tidelands Health on three separate occasions but, due to her disability, was unable to pass the isokinetic test each time. The suit says the test was not an appropriate measure of the plaintiff’s ability to perform her job duties, especially given the fact that she had been “working successfully” at other medical centers at the time of each test and had even been previously employed with the defendant before the isokinetic test was implemented as a job requirement.
The plaintiff says that although she inquired about alternatives to the isokinetic testing, she was told that “there are no alternatives” and that the test was simply “a strength to weight ratio.” Per the suit, the defendant failed to provide the plaintiff a reasonable accommodation after learning of her disabilities and excluded her from employment “in order to save money,” and not because she was unable to perform the job she was offered.
The full complaint can be read below.
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