Labor & Employment Law Daily NYC to pay $20.8M to remedy alleged discriminatory pension treatment of city nurses, midwives
Monday, July 23, 2018

NYC to pay $20.8M to remedy alleged discriminatory pension treatment of city nurses, midwives

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Under a proposed settlement agreement with the City of New York (NYC) to compensate city-employed registered nurses and midwives who were allegedly subjected to discrimination because they are women, the city would provide an estimated $20.832 million in pension-related and other payments. The city purportedly failed to recognize that the work of predominantly-female registered nurses and midwives was “physically taxing,” while deeming other predominantly-male occupations “physically taxing.” As a result, city employees in the predominantly-male “physically taxing” jobs were permitted to retire with full pensions as early as age 50, while registered nurses and midwives, who are predominantly female, had to wait until age 55 or 57 to retire with full pensions.

Discriminatory treatment. In 1968, NYC began to permit certain city employees with 25 years of service the option of retiring with full pensions beginning at age 50, if the employees worked in jobs deemed “physically taxing,” according to the Justice Department. At that time, the city refused to recognize the work of registered nurses and midwives, performed mostly by women, as “physically taxing,” but did recognize as physically taxing work performed mostly by men in occupations such as Emergency Medical Specialist – EMT, Exterminator, Motor Vehicle Dispatcher, Window Cleaner, Foremen, and Plumbers.

In 2004, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), a labor union representing city-employed registered nurses and midwives, began requesting that NYC recognize the work of registered nurses and midwives as physically taxing and also allow the union’s qualifying members the option of retiring as early as age 50. The city denied that request in 2004, and again in 2006 and 2008.

Reasonable cause finding. NYSNA and four of its members thereafter filed complaints with the EEOC. The EEOC determined there was reason to believe that NYC had discriminated against the nurses when it failed to recognize registered nurse and midwife occupational titles as “physically taxing” in 1968, and again when NYSNA made its requests in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The EEOC then referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Settlement agreement. The settlement applies to a proposed class of about 1,665 registered nurses and midwives hired by NYC from September 15, 1965, through March 31, 2012. Pending court approval, the city would pay these registered nurses and midwives, who would otherwise have been eligible to retire at an earlier age, between $1,000 and $99,000, depending on their years of qualifying service and the number of years earlier they would have been eligible to retire. The settlement also would require the city to pay attorney’s fees of $100,000 and an additional $100,000 to the four nurses who initiated the EEOC complaint which led to resolution of the discriminatory treatment.

“City nurses and midwives care for sick and injured adults, juveniles, and infants through long days and nights under difficult circumstances, and rightfully should be recognized as doing physically taxing work,” said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Equal treatment under law means just that, equal treatment, and this Office is committed to ensuring that women are treated fairly and equitably in the workplace.” He also thanked the EEOC for its investigative work.

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