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Valley company to pay $1.75M after denying help to pregnant, disabled staff, lawsuit says

A doctor checks on a patient at the Family Healthcare Network clinic in Visalia in 2009. The company was sued for discrimination against pregnant and disabled employees by the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission.
A doctor checks on a patient at the Family Healthcare Network clinic in Visalia in 2009. The company was sued for discrimination against pregnant and disabled employees by the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission. Fresno Bee file

A health care company that operates in Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties will pay $1.75 million after being sued for discriminating against employees who are pregnant or have a disability.

The Family HealthCare Network, based in Visalia, settled the lawsuit Thursday, after the U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­tunity Commission alleged the company implemented “rigid” practices and refused to accommodate the staff with appropriate leave, or failed to rehire them after leave.

The policies violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws, according to the EEOC.

Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC’s Fresno office, said the federal agency continues to see companies that don’t offer proper support to pregnant employees or individuals with disabilities.

“We are encouraged by Family HealthCare’s desire to resolve this complaint and put in place policies to ensure that all employees are treated equitably under the law,” Barrios said in a statement.

The lawsuit does not name individuals, and alleges a “systemic” problem.

Family HealthCare Network is a nonprofit that operates 31 sites in the San Joaquin Valley, most of which are Federally Qualified Health Centers, serving patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Brandon Foster, chief quality and compliance officer for FHN, said the events that led to the lawsuit happened years ago, and that there is no concern for current and future staff members.

“Our staff members are the most valuable part of our organization, and we have always been committed to their health and well-being. While this is an unfortunate situation, our goal has been and continues to be aligned with that of the EEOC: having a workplace free from discrimination,” Foster said in an email.

Foster said that FHN has not been found liable for the claims in the lawsuit, but has cooperated in its review of past employment practices.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays
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