Federal agency sues Hawaii health insurance provider

HONOLULU — A federal civil rights agency has filed a lawsuit against one of Hawaii’s largest health insurance providers, claiming it discriminated against a group of disabled workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims the Hawaii Medical Service Association denied occasional leave for medical treatment to employees with disabilities without offering other options — violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The provider changed its policy in late 2013, forcing employees to work without the accommodations or to resign, according to the suit filed Thursday in federal court.

“HMSA complies fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act and its requirement for reasonable accommodation for employees covered by the ADA,” said Elisa Yadao, senior vice president for HMSA.

The provider did not have further comment as it has not yet been served the suit Thursday, Yadao said in the statement.

Marline Reyes, who worked as a customer relations representative in the provider’s Hilo call center, was previously given up to four days off per month for medical appointments. When the new policy went into effect in early 2014, it caused Reyes “immense stress and anxiety,” according to the suit.

Reyes “felt she could no longer attend all the required medical appointments without repercussions,” the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks back pay and other damages for Reyes and other workers named in the suit.

“Blanket employment policies that negatively affect a group of individuals can be discriminatory,” said Glory Gervacio Saure, the commission’s director at the Honolulu office. “Employers should routinely audit their policies and practices to make sure they are not unlawfully discriminating against their employees.”

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