New York City agrees to pay $20.8 million in nurses case: Justice Department

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New York City has agreed to pay $20.8 million to settle federal discrimination charges brought by registered nurses and midwives who said their work was not recognized as “physically taxing,” the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

“As a result, City employees in the predominantly-male ‘physically taxing’ jobs were allowed to retire with full pensions as early as age 50, while registered nurses and midwives, who are predominantly female, had to wait until age 55 or 57 to retire with full pensions,” the department said in a statement.

The settlement applies to 1,665 registered nurses and midwives hired from Sept. 15, 1965, to March 31, 2012. Once a court approves the settlement, the city would pay the registered nurses and midwives between $1,000 and $99,000 each, depending on years of service, the Justice Department said.

The New York State Nurses Association union praised the settlement as a victory for all nurses, whose work is often physically demanding.

“It is an acknowledgement 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,” said Anne Bové, a union board member and one of the plaintiffs in the case

The city began in 1968 to allow city workers with 25 years of service to retire with full pensions beginning at age 50 if they had jobs deemed “physically taxing,” the Justice Department said.

New York City refused to recognize the work of registered nurses and midwives, which was performed mostly by women, while it bestowed the designation on work performed mostly by men, including emergency medical technicians, exterminators, motor vehicle dispatchers, window cleaners, foremen and plumbers, the Justice Department said.

The New York State Nurses Association in 2004 began asking the city to give the “physically taxing” designation to nurses and midwives and allowing them the option of retiring at 50.

After multiple refusals by the city, the union and some members filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated the matter and determined there was reason to believe the city had discriminated against the nurses, the Justice Department said in its statement.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Susan Thomas and Steve Orlofsky