Regional Mental Health Center, EEOC settle discrimination lawsuit

2013-03-18T16:00:00Z 2013-03-19T12:52:03Z Regional Mental Health Center, EEOC settle discrimination lawsuitBy Marisa Kwiatkowski, (219) 662-5333

HAMMOND | The Regional Mental Health Center has agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a federal lawsuit stemming from its treatment of an employee with breast cancer, federal court records show.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Southlake Mental Health Center, doing business as the Regional Mental Health Center. The center operates more than a dozen facilities in Northwest Indiana that offer emergency mental health services, mental illness treatment and alcohol and substance abuse treatment.

The EEOC claimed the mental health center discriminated against former employee Felicia Nichols by denying her request for leave for breast cancer treatment, then terminating her because of her need for leave, according to the complaint filed in federal court.

The EEOC argued the center's decision violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and "demonstrated a reckless indifference to Nichols' federally protected rights," the agency said in a press release issued Monday.

The center denied the allegations, according to a consent decree filed earlier this month by the EEOC and the Regional Mental Health Center.

As part of the consent decree, the mental health center and Geminus Corp., which oversees the center's human resources, agreed to post notice of non-discrimination at all its facilities and to train employees on that policy. The entities also agreed to work with any employee who has a disability and needs to be accommodated, and they agreed to consider granting leave for employees who have a disability, regardless of whether they have time available under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The Regional Mental Health Center also agreed to pay $200,000 to Nichols and her attorneys, according to the consent decree. The center agreed to report its compliance with the consent decree to the EEOC for five years.

"We hope that no other employees will have to suffer the pain that Nichols suffered — choosing between her job or attending to her serious health condition," said Laurie A. Young, EEOC Indianapolis regional attorney.

Attorney Michael Rappa, who represented the Regional Mental Health Center, could not be reached Monday for comment.

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