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Kaiser Faces $800K Suit for Age Discrimination

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A registered nurse sued Kaiser Permanente Hospitals for $800,000 for age discrimination, in Multnomah County Court.

Robert Cook, 61, has 35 years of nursing experience in highly coveted specialty areas such as critical care and has held the position of floor charge nurse, the complaint says. Since August 2011, he claims he has applied for 62 open registered nurse positions at Kaiser hospitals, but has been denied interviews for 59, according to the complaint.

The interviews he did have ended with his denial of employment based on his age and the failure of a test he says is intentionally designed to identify and disqualify older applicants, Cook alleges in his complaint.

He added that an Advance Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) endorsement he earned in December 2011 did nothing to peak hospital administrators' interest.

Cook says Kaiser nursing recruiter Arif Adam was able to get him an interview with hiring managers Mary Spear and Suzanne Symons, both denying Cook employment after learning of his age, according to the complaint.

Cook said he never actually got to meet with Spear, who relegated the interview to her subordinate. The interview with Symons turned into a surreptitious physical test meant to determine if he could "keep up," the complaint says.

"As part of plaintiff's interview with Symons, she took him for a brisk walk around the Kaiser facility," the complaint states. "After several minutes of walking, Symons told plaintiff they needed to go to another floor and then asked plaintiff if he was able to go up and down stairs, or if he needed to take the elevator. At that point, plaintiff strongly suspected Symons was testing him physically due to his age."

Symons later admitted to Adam that she had physically tested Cook because of his age and that neither she nor Spear would consider him for employment because "they believed he was too old," according to the complaint.

Adam said he was shocked by the managers' determination and spoke with a supervisor, Christina Rubenstorf, but was told that "under no circumstances was he to enter anything about plaintiff's age being the deciding factor" in the hospital's reporting system, the complaint said.

Adam met with another supervisor, Carrie Latimer, but was told "that his job was to keep management happy and that he needed to do so as he had been instructed by Rubenstorf," according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, many of the rejections Cook received cited a failed test, which he claims is designed to block older applicants from access to certain job opportunities.

"That is true because the questions on this test were not job related to one or more of the positions for which plaintiff applied and the questions had the effect of eliminating older workers, such as plaintiff, from consideration for employment with Kaiser," the complaint states.

Cook is suing for disparate treatment age discrimination and is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, and also wants the court to order Kaiser to hire him into an "open, union-represented nursing position for which he is qualified."

Mitra Shahri and Robert Meyer of the Mitra Law Group in Portland represent Cook.

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