Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)10 Oct 98


Quick Summary: It is not a hospital’s responsibility to retrain a disabled nurse for a utilization review position.

   After an off-the-job injury a nurse asked about a job that was open in utilization review.

   She was not qualified for the job without additional training.

   She could not go back to her clinical nursing position with her medical restrictions. SUPREME COURT OF MICHIGAN, 1998.


   A registered nurse wanted to return to work more than a year after an off-the-job shoulder injury in an auto accident. The injury left her with a lifting restriction not to exceed five pounds. The nurse herself admitted she could not return to a clinical position at the hospital as a registered nurse.

   The nurse approached hospital management about a position that was open in utilization review. As she was not qualified for the position, it was not offered to her. She sued for disability discrimination.

   The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled there were no grounds for a disability discrimination lawsuit.

   The case was filed under state law in Michigan. As in many states, state law in Michigan closely parallels Federal law, with the notable exception that Michigan refers to "handicap" discrimination while other states and the Federal laws refer to "disability" which is the more widely accepted terminology.

   As a general rule an employee who becomes disabled is entitled to reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation, among other things, can mean considering the employee for a position compatible with the employee’s disability.

   According to the court, when an employee becomes disabled the employer only has to consider the employee for a position that is open and in the same job classification for which the employee was hired. A clinical nurse with new lifting restrictions should be considered for a clinical nursing position with lesser lifting requirements, if such a position is open.

   However, the court said an employer need not transfer an employee to a completely different position than the position for which the employee was hired, just to avoid charges of failing to make reasonable accommodation. The court said utilization review is a completely different position than clinical nursing.

   The court ruled it would be an unreasonable financial burden, and thus not a reasonable accommodation, to require employers to retrain workers for different positions if they should become disabled.

   The court said this nurse was disabled from clinical nursing but was not qualified for utilization review, so she was not a qualified individual with a disability. All the pieces to the legal puzzle were not in place for her disability discrimination lawsuit. Rourk v. Oakwood Hospital Corporation, 580 N.W. 2d 397 (Mich., 1998).