City of New York Acknowledges a Nurse's Job is Physically Taxing - to the Tune of $20.8 Million

New York City agreed to pay a $20.8 million settlement for its nurses and midwives who filed federal discrimination charges against the Justice Department, claiming it did not recognize their work as “physically taxing” compared with City employees who were predominantly male in physically demanding roles.

New York City agreed to pay a $20.8 million settlement for its nurses and midwives who filed federal discrimination charges against the Justice Department, claiming it did not recognize their work as “physically taxing” compared with City employees who were predominantly male in physically demanding roles.

The claim stems from conflicting retirement ages. Beginning in 1968, predominantly male jobs in New York City, including in the healthcare field, that are considered physically taxing—including emergency medical specialists, exterminators, motor vehicle dispatchers, window cleaners, foremen, and plumbers—allow employees with 25 years of service to retire with full pensions as early as age 50. Meanwhile, registered nurses and midwives, who are mostly-female professionals, have not been allowed to retire with full pensions until age 55 or 57.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York filed the proposed settlement along with a complaint in federal district court.

Subject to court approval, the settlement will enable the proposed class of approximately 1665 registered nurses and midwives, hired by the City from September 15, 1965, through March 31, 2012, to receive between $1,000 and $99,000, depending upon their years of qualifying service and the number of years earlier they would have been eligible to retire.

“The costs of economic discrimination as well as gender discrimination impacts the business case for caring,” said Donna M. Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, FNAP, FAAN, dean and professor, Rutgers University School of Nursing - Camden, and editor, Nursing Economics. “The historic and profound discrimination of women in nursing throughout history has never been adequately addressed.”

“The discrimination suit and the settlement highlight that there are laws at work to protect nurses especially, but that nurses are in a (protected) class,” Margaret Barton-Burke, PhD, RN, FAAN, director, Nursing Research, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, added.

This settlement is part of a much bigger picture that highlights the value of the nursing profession, women’s roles in it, and the difficulty involved. Nurses often work shifts as long as 12 hours at a time, and are on the move much of that time walking the corridors of their institutions and visiting patients in their rooms. “This excessive walking and standing on one’s feet lead to increased fatigue and exhaustion,” Nickitas said.

The added physical stress of maneuvering patients for treatment is also burdensome, as moving and lifting patients is challenging, and nurses sometimes sustain occupational injuries from the work. Changing soiled linens is also a frequent, physical part of the job.

Oncology nurses have an extra layer of exhaustion risk because they handle toxic chemical agents, and must wear added layers of protective clothing to shield themselves. “Often this extra layer or protection increases the body temperature of the nurse causing heat exhaustion and fatigue,” Nickitas said.

In addition, oncology nurses experience caregiver fatigue, Barton-Burke said. “Oncology nurses care too much about patients’ physical and psychological well-being and nurses experience caregiver fatigue as documented in the literature,” she added. “Caregiver fatigue manifests itself in a variety of ways including being tired and run down with new or worsening health problems. The health problems can lead to absenteeism and poor work performance.”

Both Barton-Burke and Nickitas expressed hope that the suit will raise public awareness about the value of nursing.

“Perhaps this settlement will draw attention to the real contribution nurses make beyond their meeting the physical needs of patients, but also including the psychosocial (and) emotional needs of patients as well,” Nickitas said. “After all, we care for the whole patient, not just their bodies.”

Reference

Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. City of New York agrees to pay $20.8 million to settle federal discrimination charges made by registered nurses. E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CV-4100 (WFK). US Department of Justice website. justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/city-new-york-agrees-pay-208-million-settle-federal-discrimination-charges-made. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed July 18, 2018.