BROOKLYN (CN) – New York City will pay its nurses and midwives over $20 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York announced Wednesday.
According to the nurses’ complaint, also filed Wednesday, the City designates some of its employees’ jobs as “physically taxing.” Until 2012, when the program was discontinued, city employees in physically taxing positions who worked 25 years had the option to retire with their full pensions as early as age 50. Since the list’s first iteration in 1968, nursing and midwifery have not been on it.
In 2013, according to the complaint, 90 percent of nurses were women.
“The settlement is a victory for all nurses and a testament to the hard, physically demanding work that nurses do every day for those in need of care in the public hospitals,” said Anne Bové, a board member at the nurses’ labor union, the New York State Nurses Association, in a written statement.
“It is an acknowledgement of the injustice done to our sister and brother nurses who were denied recognition of the difficult nature of our work, all based on the discriminatory perception that nurses are mostly women and women’s work isn’t physically strenuous,” Bové said. “This was a great historical injustice against nurses and though the past cannot be changed, it is high time that the injustice be recognized and that affected nurses are at least compensated for being excluded from earning the same pension rights that other workers in physically taxing jobs received solely on the basis of sex.”
In a written statement, U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue concurred.
“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,” he said. “Equal treatment under law means just that, equal treatment.”
The positionson the city’s early-retirement list are held predominantly by men, including sanitation workers, plumbers, crane operators, exterminators, EMTs and window cleaners. Though nursing “require[s] heavy physical exertion, as well as a tremendous amount of physical effort, on a daily basis,” the complaint says, nurses could not retire with full pensions until age 55 or 57, like other city employees.
“Nurses’ daily physical responsibilities include lifting, moving, turning, transferring, supporting and restraining patients, many of whom are heavy, sometimes mentally ill or intoxicated, and even combative,” the complaint says. “The majority of a nurse’s workday involves walking or standing,” the complaint continues, adding that nurses suffer a disproportionate number of back issues on the job.”
The nurses’ labor union, the New York State Nurses Association, has been requesting a spot on the city’s physical taxation list for nearly 16 years. But the city repeatedly denied the request. The union filed a suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found in its favor in 2010, and refered the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The settlement money, a total of $20.8 million, will be split among the approximately 1,665 nurses in the lawsuit class. Since the city has discontinued the early-retirement program for all its employees, the settlement is only a remedy for past conduct.
The New York State Nurses Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The U.S. Attorney’s office had no additional comment.