Yes, nursing is 'physically taxing.' (And these nurses have a $20.8M settlement to prove it.)

New York State Nurses Association on Wednesday announced New York City had agreed to pay $20.8 million to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit that argued work done by city-employed RNs and midwives should qualify as a "physically taxing" job.

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Details of the lawsuit

Since 1968, New York City workers in "physically taxing" professions have been eligible to retire at 50 years old after 25 years of service and collect their full pensions. In the past, many of the 380 jobs that received the "physically taxing" designation were male-dominated, such as exterminators, plumbers, and emergency medical technicians, according to the New York Times. However, nurses and midwives were not included, despite three requests from the New York State Nurses Association.

The association and some members in 2008 filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging the city had discriminated against them on the basis of sex.  Anne Bové, a New York State Nurses Association board member and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, "The average nurse moves about 1.8 tons of weight per shift."

EEOC investigated the complaint and in 2010 found the city had discriminated against RNs by not including them on the "physically taxing" list.

Settlement details

On Wednesday, the city announced it had placed RNs and midwives on the "physically taxing" list and said it would pay a $20.8 million settlement to compensate RNs who were denied that benefit. Under the settlement, which still must be approved by the court, 1,665 RNs and midwives hired by the city between Sept. 15, 1965, and March 31, 2012, will be eligible to receive anywhere from $1,000 to $99,000, according to the Times.

Reaction

Curlean Duncan-Britton, who was a nurse for over 30 years at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, said the victory was "a bittersweet kind of thing," adding, "Everyone knows that the nursing profession, 95% of our time we're standing on our feet."

Duncan-Britton has chronic back and shoulder pain and is one of three women who initially brought the complaint to the EEOC in 2008. "I've had patients spit on me," she said. "I've had patients fall on me."

Richard Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said, "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."

In a statement, the American Nurses Association said the settlement "is long overdue and a great win for the nursing profession as it further underscores nurses' significant contributions and tireless dedication and commitment on the frontlines of care" (Pager, New York Times, 7/18; Chuck, NBC News, 7/18; Chiacu, Reuters, 7/18).

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