Tenet Healthcare Corp. Employee Alleges FMLA and Disability Violations

On October 27, in the Michigan Eastern District, Tracy Hack filed a complaint against Tenet Healthcare Corporation Inc., VHS of Michigan Inc. (DBA the Detroit Medical Center (DMC)) and VHS Harper-Hutzel Hospital Inc., claiming the defendants violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Michigan’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA) by failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for a disability upon her return from medical leave and failing to reinstate her as a Patient Safety Officer.

Hack began working for the DMC in January 2017 as Regional Director of Risk Management and Patient Safety. She was promoted in January 2018 to National Director of Quality and Patient Safety, and in May 2019, she was promoted to Chief Quality Officer.

In September 2019, the defendants terminated four employees with whom Hack worked closely, leaving her with “reason to believe her job was also in jeopardy,” according to the complaint. Following the terminations of her co-workers, Hack proffered to have discussed with the company CEO the option of moving to a different position — a Patient Safety Officer (PSO). The plaintiff then alleged that her job as Chief Quality Officer was eliminated shortly after the aforementioned discussion, with Hack assuming the PSO role in November 2019.

In December 2019, the plaintiff faced serious medical complications and needed an emergency procedure, which resulted in further pain and complications, the complaint said. The pleading additionally asserted that Hack’s doctor determined she would be unable to return to work until her health stabilized, leading Hack to submit paperwork for medical leave under the FMLA, which the defendants subsequently approved. After further medical procedures to stabilize her health, the plaintiff stated that she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and told her Lupus was exacerbated, requiring Hack to start immunosuppressive medication and steroids and attend physical therapy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hack was told it was no longer safe for her to attend her physical therapy, as she was immunocompromised, the complaint said. Hack’s leave of absence at the DMC was set to expire March 31, but the plaintiff alleged that her supervisors and HR told her that “her job was not in jeopardy.”Additionally, the complaint claimed, the Governor of Michigan’s stay-at-home order, developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, required nonessential workers, which the plaintiff proffered to be considered under the order, to work from home from March 24 to April 13.

In May 2020, while still on medical leave, the plaintiff claimed that she suggested to her employer that she may be able to “ease back into a regular working schedule,” beginning with a schedule of three days working from home and two days off. According to the complaint, her supervisors were “supportive of this arrangement.” Given the employer support, Hack averred, Hack’s doctor then approved her to work from home three days per week on May 29. The plaintiff alleged that following this medical approval, she sent notice to her company, only to have the employer deny the three-day remote work arrangement, despite the “defendants (being) originally encouraging of this arrangement.” 

On July 6, the plaintiff alleged that her doctor had approved Hack to work full-time from home, and she relayed the approval to her supervisors. The same day, the complaint contends, the plaintiff was told by the defendants that the DMC would not approve her to work remotely, and in order to remain in her position, she would have to work full-time physically present at the office. Hack averred that such a request lacked legal merit as, according to the governor’s executive order at the time, “every employee that could work remotely must do so,” and the accommodation (working remotely) failed to constitute an “undue burden” for the defendants as the plaintiff’s job duties could be completed satisfactorily outside of the office. The defendants, Hack avowed, summarily dismissed the plaintiff’s logic, ultimately telling Hack that “the DMC would not be allowing (the) (p)laintiff any accommodations.” 

On July 8, the plaintiff asserted that she asked the defendants, via a written letter, to reconsider offering any of the aforementioned accommodations to her, referencing the FMLA’s prohibition on retaliation against people seeking accommodations while possessing a recognizable disability. However, the complaint purports that the defendants did not reconsider, choosing to instead offer the plaintiff a different position, an Abstractor, which the DMC approved to function remotely. In this role, the plaintiff purported that she would make “significantly less money,” specifically $60,000 less than she was making as a PSO. Nonetheless, Hack accepted this role, asseverating that she was “left with no other choice.”

The plaintiff alleged that the defendants are in violation of the FMLA’s prohibition on employer retaliation when an employee seeks sanctioned leave, as the plaintiff “was entitled to leave under the FMLA, and was qualified to enjoy its protections.” The complaint asserted that while the defendants ultimately approved the plaintiff’s leave, the resulting demotion upon her return operated as illegal retaliation given that Hack “sustained loss of earnings and earning capacity, past and future lost earnings, the value of fringe and retirement benefits, loss of job and career opportunities, damage to her good name and reputation in the community, mental and emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment, (and) loss of the enjoyment of the ordinary pleasures of life.”

The plaintiff further alleged that the defendants violated the Michigan PWDCRA’s prohibition against discrimination or retaliation, including a demotion, for the plaintiff “because of a disability that was unrelated to her ability to perform the job, and/or because she was regarded as having a disability. The plaintiff argued that she tendered the “reasonable accommodations” of working remotely, working a hybrid schedule, or even simply allowing Hack to remain in her office throughout the day to limit possible COVID-19 exposure. Given that the requested accommodations allowed the plaintiff to do her job satisfactorily without placing an undue burden on the defendants, the pleading concluded that the defendants’ choice to demote, rather than grant said accommodations, resulted in the defendants potentially violating the PWDCRA. 

Hack requested compensatory and punitive damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. The plaintiff is represented by Deborah Gordon Law.