A battle of more than a decade against the City of New York to recognize of nursing as physically taxing work culminated on July 18. The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) announced that a gender discrimination settlement of $20.8 million dollars would be shared by over 1,600 public hospital nurses.
A pension plan, in effect until 2012, provided for employees who performed physically strenuous work to qualify for full early pension at 50 years of age if they had worked for 25 years or more. The city recognized more than 380 jobs traditionally performed by men as physically taxing – from mechanic, driller, paver, to exterminator. Jobs that were normally performed by women were excluded.
From 2004 the NYSNA, led by Anne Bové, a 62-year old nurse and 40-year employee at a New York public hospital, made numerous requests to city legislators to include nurses and midwives on the list. They were refused every time.
In 2008, Bové, three other nurses and the NYSNA filed a formal charge with the United States Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming gender-based discrimination as the city refused to place a female-dominated profession on the list. The EEOC found that the physical requirements of caring for patients exposed nurses to rates of injury, illness and physical strain that were among the highest of all professions.
After all, nurses are on their feet for most of their shift, lift and transport heavy patients and equipment all day, are exposed to communicable diseases and environmental hazards, as well as high rates of workplace violence.
The EEOC finding opened the way for a case to be referred to the US Department of Justice. The class-action lawsuit was handled by prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office.
“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 Bové, who is also an NYSNA Board Member. “It is an acknowledgment 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.”
This settlement demonstrates the value of passion and persistence in advocacy. Further, it was not only a victory for nurses but also for women. “Equal treatment under the law means just that, equal treatment, and this Office is committed to ensuring that women are treated fairly and equitably in the workplace,” stated the United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue.