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EEOC Sues AutoZone for Discriminating Against Sikh Employee

BOSTON – AutoZone, Inc., a national distributor and retailer of automobile parts, violated federal law when it subjected an employee who had converted to the Sikh religion to harassment and refused to accommodate his religious need to wear a turban, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-11648, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that AutoZone created a hostile work environment for Frank Mahoney-Burroughs because of his Sikh religion at its location in Everett, Mass. The harassment included a manager asking Mahoney-Burroughs if he was a terrorist and had joined Al-Qaeda and whether he intended to blow up the store, the EEOC said. The complaint also alleges that AutoZone failed to intervene when customers referred to Mahoney-Burroughs as “Bin Laden” and made terrorist jokes.

The EEOC also said that AutoZone refused to let Mahoney-Burroughs wear a turban and kara (a religious bracelet) as required of male adherents to Sikhism. Finally, AutoZone terminated him because of his religion and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

Religious harassment and discrimination, as well as retaliation for complaining about them, violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks monetary relief for Mahoney-Burroughs, the adoption of strong policies and procedures to remedy and prevent religious discrimination by AutoZone, training on discrimination for its managers and employees, and more.

The Sikh religion is the world’s fifth-largest religion by adherents and has nearly one million followers in the United States. AutoZone is a publicly traded Fortune 500 company with more than 4,300 stores throughout the country as well as in Mexico.

Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., the director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, which has jurisdiction over Massachusetts, said, “Employers are obligated to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees unless the accommodation poses an undue hardship. The EEOC will continue to take swift action to protect employees from religious discrimination.”

Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, added, “This case also is a reminder that employers must be particularly vigilant against the harassment and unfair treatment of religious minorities.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.

Source:  http://www.tradingmarkets.com/news/stock-alert/azo_eeoc-sues-autozone-for-discriminating-against-sikh-employee-1196084.html


Nursing Home Negligence

Falls in Nursing Homes

Litigators who work with cases involving long term care know how significant the issue of falls can be. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death by injury in adults over 65. Approximately half of the 1.6 million nursing home residents in the U.S. fall each year, and a report by the Office of the Inspector General found that about 10% of Medicare skilled nursing residents experience a fall resulting in significant injury; and, more than 1/3 of hospital falls result in injury. In the rehab setting, rates are often higher – for example, fall rates among stroke patients have been shown to be very high. Immobility and falls can lead to poor outcomes.

Fear of falling is defined as a geriatric syndrome. It not only occurs in older adults who have fallen, but in those with impaired mobility and is associated with decreased physical ability and depression. Care of older adults requires that clinicians be aware of the myriad of issues related to falls including knowledge of this syndrome, increased risk and interventions needed to prevent injury related to falls.

Just about every resident in a long term care setting, including assisted living and sub-acute rehab, is at risk for falling. Between medications, functional and medical issues and advancing age, older adults in most settings are prone to falling.

There are well established standards of care related to fall prevention; but, as I continue to review records related to issues like falls, I am amazed at how often these basic standards are not being practiced. The basics of a fall prevention program include assessment and ongoing reassessment of risk, ensuring a safe environment, medication review, providing therapy as needed, individualized interventions, and staff education.

Basic nursing practice includes assessment, planning (Care plan), putting interventions in place and then evaluating outcomes to determine if those interventions are appropriate and effective. Assessment includes completing fall risk assessments on admission and then as needed. Very often, the fall risk assessments completed by nurses in LTC are inaccurate. The tools utilized in long term care typically include these risk factors: history of falling, use of ambulatory aids, gait/balance issues, medications, secondary diagnoses (i.e. diabetes) and mental status. Care planning is the next step in nursing care - it is the standard of care that as the resident’s status changes, assessments and care plans must be updated, and often, are not. For example, with each fall, there should be updates, or if there is a new diagnosis, i.e. stroke, or worsening dementia, updated interventions should be put into place, with ongoing evaluation of effectiveness.

Care planning and interventions very often are generic and not individualized. For example, a toileting schedule that includes only after meals and before bedtime may not be appropriate. If a resident has issues with constipation or incontinence, this may lead to the need for more frequent toileting to prevent falls. The “make certain call bell is within reach” for residents with dementia is an example of a generic intervention. Older adults with dementia may not recognize a call bell or remember to use it. The debate about use of bed and chair alarms go on – they are a part of an individualized care plan, not a solution to preventing falls. Often, I see delays in putting interventions in place, i.e. with the resident who is incontinent NOT being put on a toileting plan immediately. The other common issue I see when reviewing records is the lack of updating care plans as the resident’s status changes – with every fall, with worsening dementia, physical decline, or new medical diagnosis (i.e. Parkinsonism).

Nurses reviewing records need to pay attention to the MDS, risk assessments, care plans and Interdisciplinary notes with attention to where the standard of care is not being met.
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