New York To Pay Nurses $20 Million In Gender Bias Settlement
By Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
Thanks to a special law in New York City, employees who worked “physically taxing” jobs were allowed to collect their full pensions starting at age 50, after 25 years of service, in order to account for the fact that their jobs would be too physically demanding to perform for extended periods of time.
All in all, 380 traditionally male-dominated professions such as window cleaners, exterminators, and mechanics were all included in the special program but the one profession not included?
Nursing Is Not A “Physical Taxing” Occupation?
Somehow, being on your feet for 12+ hour shifts, moving patients who are unconscious, morbidly obese, or even actively trying to hurt you, running to codes, bending, twisting, and moving in every way possible to care for other people every single day didn’t make the cut as “physically taxing”? Um, no.
As you can imagine, the New York Times reported that NYC nurses protested the law and starting in 2004, the New York State Nurses Association petitioned lawmakers to add nurses to the list of physically taxing professions.
The program ended for new employees in 2012, so the nurses’ group was petitioning that any nurses who worked during the time that the program was active should be eligible for the full pension after 25 years of service.
The NYSNA, led by Anne Bové, a 62-year-old nurse and 40-year employee at the publicly-run Bellevue Hospital who led the initiative, asked the city to include nurses working at city hospitals in the program a total of three times. And all three times they were turned down.
Nurses Win Gender Discrimination Lawsuit
Now, however, New York City is paying out $20.6 million dollars thanks to a class-action lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that ultimately found that the pension plan was gender discriminatory towards male-oriented professions, leaving out nursing because it has traditionally been a female-majority led form of work.
The EEOC determined that nursing requires a high threshold for physical requirements, with injury rates, illness and physical strain in general being one of the highest of any profession.
The New York State Nurses Association announced the settlement this morning on their website, stating,
“NYSNA thanks the City of New York for their settlement today and for finally recognizing that nurses and midwives are among the hardest working residents of this city. Unfairly denying pension benefits to NYSNA nurses was wrong and fixing this wrong was long overdue. Regardless of our gender or occupation, nurses are as deserving as anyone of equal benefits and respect for the tireless work we do every single day.”
The payout will go towards 1,600 nurses and midwives at public hospitals who qualified for the pension during the time it was active, as well as over $100,000 in legal fees, according to New York Daily News, pending a judge’s approval for the settlement.
In a statement, United States Attorney Richard Donoghue 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. Equal treatment under law means just that, equal treatment, and this office is committed to ensuring that women are treated fairly and equitably in the workplace.”
A Victory For Women’s Equality
For the nurses who worked during the time of the pension and all of the nurses who have come after them, working themselves to the literal bone to care for the patients, it’s not just about the money—it’s about acknowledging the truth about how hard nurses work in every capacity, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, in their profession.
- “Thank you,” wrote one supporter on the NYSNA Facebook page in response to the news that nursing was being recognized as physically taxing.
- “We nurses always knew this. It is about time it is law.”
- “This is a great victory,” wrote another.
- “Anne has been a tireless advocate from the beginning and this shows the power of perseverance for everyone involved. This was a difficult campaign, I can remember working on this right after my son was born and he is 11 now. Amazing work everyone!”
For the nurses, especially Bové, who never gave up working tirelessly as an advocate and a professional, the settlement has been a long time coming, but the fight has been worth it for not only the nurses involved, but those who will come after.
“The most important part was the recognition,” stated Bové.
She continued, “this is one small part of the picture in terms of acknowledging the equality of women.”