NYU Langone sued for disability discrimination

A former physician’s assistant filed a complaint against NYU Langone, accusing the institution of disability discrimination after the hospital terminated her employment last year.


Kevin Wu

(Kevin Wu for WSN)

Yezen Saadah, News Editor

A former physician’s assistant at NYU Langone Health is suing the school for disability discrimination after the hospital allegedly fired her for requesting accommodations. Sophiana Cilus, who underwent hip reconstruction surgery in July 2021, was terminated after she requested an extension of an accommodation that was previously granted that shortened her maximum shift length from 12 to 10 hours.

Cilus took medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act following her surgery. Cilus’ hip injury impacted her ability to “perform manual tasks, sleep, lift and bend,” according to the lawsuit. After returning to work in January 2022, she filed a request asking NYU Langone for the accommodation.

Alex Rissmiller, Cilus’ attorney, said the university accommodated Cilus’s six-month request by reassigning her to a new department that did not require shifts longer than 10 hours. Three months later, however, John Davidson — the senior director of the hospital’s Physician Assistant Services — proposed that Cilus increase her working hours back to 12.

Ms. Cilus’ complaint describes that she requested an accommodation for her injuries, which would have allowed her to continue in her role, and that NYU Langone denied that request under false pretenses,” Rissmiller said.

Cilus, who started working at NYU Langone in 2018, filed her complaint on Jan. 18, 2023. After Davidson proposed that Cilus go back to working 12-hour shifts, she requested an extension of her ongoing accommodation in April 2022. According to the complaint, NYU Langone denied that request. Soon after, the university terminated her, claiming that her “absence from the unit negatively impacted patient care” and “burdened coworkers,” the lawsuit reads.

The complaint accuses NYU Langone of disability discrimination on several counts, primarily under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit adds that Cilus — who is a disabled individual under the ADA, and was perceived as disabled by NYU Langone — was allegedly denied her statutory rights guaranteed by New York City Human Rights Law and New York State Human Rights Law as a member of a protected class.

The university initially had until Feb. 17 to respond to the allegations, but the deadline has since been extended to Friday, March 3. 

“The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees,” Rissmiller said.

Rissmiller described the lawsuit as a case of disability discrimination, saying that many serious injuries — including Cilus’ physical limitations following her hip surgery — are considered disabilities under the law. Rissmiller referenced a similar case, Malzberg v. NYU, in which Laurence Malzberg, a former physician’s assistant at NYU Langone, accused the institution of discriminating against him on the basis of his chronic back pain. The case was settled outside of court in July 2022.

If the jury rules in Cilus’s favor, NYU Langone could be forced to repay her lost wages, including her unused vacation time. The court could also award Cilus additional compensation for the emotional distress she endured during the incident, though Rissmiller said this figure is much more difficult to calculate.

Steve Ritea, a spokesperson for NYU Langone, said that although the hospital cannot discuss details of the case, they do intend to fight the lawsuit in court.

“NYU Langone Health is committed to providing reasonable accommodations and ensuring a work environment free from discrimination,” Ritea told WSN. 

Contact Yezen Saadah at [email protected].