Fired worker takes on Ford Motor Co.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against Ford Motor Co. Inc. for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled worker at its Dearborn facility.

According to the EEOC, Ford refused to let employee Jane Harris participate in its liberal telecommuting program as a reasonable accommodation for her gastrointestinal condition, which she said had rendered her disabled. The EEOC claims that instead of accommodating the worker, Ford criticized her job performance, and placed her on a “performance enhancement plan.” She complained about being denied the accommodation, and a few months later, Ford fired her, which EEOC said is a violation of the ADA.

The EEOC said that it tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The agency is seeking back pay and compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages. The case is EEOC v. Ford Motor Company Inc., Case No. 2:11CV13742, and was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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Michigan Blues lawsuit gets national attention

Three months ago, we reported on Pontiac-based TheraMatrix winning a $4.5 million lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for breach of contract and tortious interference with economic and business relationships (“Their (Blue) Cross to bear,” Aug. 23, 2010).

Now, this matter is getting national attention, thanks to a USA Today story that also appears in the Detroit Free Press (both papers are owned by Gannett). The Freep also published a story that talks about a recently filed U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against the Blues.

Here’s an excerpt:

As health care costs soared nationally, a small Michigan firm gave Ford Motor Co. a proposal to cut its physical therapy costs. The automaker signed up for an in-state pilot program, which was so successful Ford expanded it last year to cover about 390,000 employees, retirees and their families nationwide.

Yet the cost-saving program created by Pontiac-based TheraMatrix has come under attack from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Court records allege Blue Cross used its position as the state’s dominant insurer to try to crush TheraMatrix as it worked to also sign up Chrysler and General Motors.

A USA Todayreview of hundreds of pages of e-mails and internal documents that are part of a lawsuit TheraMatrix filed against Blue Cross indicates that TheraMatrix’s efforts to carve out a niche market in managing outpatient physical therapy costs was seen as a threat by officials at Blue Cross and by some Michigan hospitals. …

The dispute provides a window into some of the factors that make overhauling the nation’s health care system so difficult. The aggressive tactics employed against TheraMatrix raise questions about whether relationships between hospitals and insurers are inflating medical prices and stifling competition needed to control costs.

Court records depict Blue Cross — a nonprofit created under Michigan law to provide affordable health care — as working with a major hospital to stop expansion of TheraMatrix’s program. They also reveal that Blue Cross barred TheraMatrix from the insurer’s medical provider network, which covers most Michigan patients.

A Detroit-area jury awarded TheraMatrix $4.5 million in July, finding that Blue Cross breached an agreement with TheraMatrix to process claims for its Ford program, then wrongfully interfered with TheraMatrix’s efforts to launch a Chrysler program. Blue Cross has appealed.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department sued Michigan’s Blue Cross, accusing the insurer of a different kind of anticompetitive behavior: paying hospitals higher prices for medical care in exchange for a promise they would charge competing insurers as much as 40% more than they charge Blue Cross. Blue Cross says the suit is without merit. …

Effective antitrust regulation is critical to lowering health care costs, Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division, told lawyers at a health care conference in May. “The goals of health care reform cannot be achieved,” she said, “if dominant insurers use exclusionary practices to blockade entry or expansion by alternative insurers.”

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Former Ford worker indicted

“A former Ford Motor Co. engineer has been indicted on federal charges of stealing company secrets and trying to sell them in China,” reports The Oakland Press.

“Xiang Dong, aka Mike Yu, 47, of Beijing, China, was charged in a five-count indictment with theft of trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets and unauthorized access to a protected computer, according to Terrence Berg, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who on Thursday announced the charges, which followed an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”