Human rights panel finds Lewiston hospital discriminated against gynecologist

Posted May 22, 2012, at 5:55 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A gynecologist was fired illegally because of her Crohn’s disease, the Maine Human Rights Commission decided Monday.

Ingrid Carlson of Portland had worked for Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston since 2003. In March 2010, when Carlson’s own doctor told her that her Crohn’s disease symptoms were worsening because she worked on-call night shifts at the hospital, Carlson asked the hospital to relieve her of the night shifts while she recovered. The hospital didn’t work to accommodate her disability, she said.

The next month, Carlson took a planned vacation. When she came back and looked at her schedule, she found that she had no appointments after June 30.

“I was typically booked months out. I also began learning from patients that they were being told that I was leaving the practice and to select a different provider,” Carlson wrote to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The hospital then offered Carlson a part-time job. She countered by offering to take a six-month leave of absence while her body recovered.

In May, “[The president of the hospital] told me that he was not open to having me continue working as an OB/GYN or take a medical leave and then return to that position because of the possibility that I could experience more flare-ups of Crohn’s disease, which he said could be disruptive to patients,” Carlson wrote.

The hospital then took her name off phone lists, accidentally forwarded her a resume of someone who was applying for her job, and her office offered to throw her a going-away party, she wrote. Carlson said she submitted her resignation so she could find full-time work.

The hospital also wrote the commission. In its submission, it said that it was not a reasonable accommodation for a disability to take Carlson off the overnight on-call list because it was an essential function of the job. Further, it said it was willing to temporarily relieve Carlson from night shifts but that Carlson resigned anyway.

The hospital cited a letter Carlson sent that said, “because of my health reasons, I am no longer able to be awake 24 hours and will eventually be closing my practice over the next few months.” She then asked the hospital for another job and it offered her a part-time position. When she received the offer, Carlson told the hospital she was “surprised and dismayed” to learn she wasn’t on the schedule after June in her full-time role as a gynecologist.

The Maine Human Rights Commission’s investigator described the confusion as Carlson having “a change of heart and felt that she would like to continue on in her OB/GYN role.” But “because Dr. Carlson was told that, even if she had been cleared to resume full-time employment, [she] would not have been able to return to her position as an OB/GYN physician with CMMC because of the potential for future flare-ups of Crohn’s Disease,” the hospital acted in a discriminatory way. By not scheduling her past June 2010, the hospital effectively fired her, the investigator wrote.

The commission agreed in a 3-1 vote on Monday.

Both parties are encouraged to reconcile and reach a settlement. If conciliation fails, the complainant may file a civil lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, where a binding settlement can include monetary damages.

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