Former employee sues Alliance Healthcare Services over claims of unequal pay, whistleblower retaliation

A former account executive claims Irvine, Calif.-based Alliance Healthcare Services fired her after she requested to reduce her hours to accommodate breast cancer treatment demands and raised concerns that she was not paid equitably compared to her male colleagues, according to a lawsuit filed against the healthcare services provider.

Kristen Paltz filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the company Jan. 7, alleging unequal pay and whistleblower retaliation. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, seeks punitive and compensatory damages, among other relief. 

Ms. Paltz began working at Alliance in 1995. In 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and continued working full-time through 2017, when she approached the company's management to limit her workweek to four days because of the demands of her treatment, according to the complaint. Alliance allegedly approved the request. 

In 2018, Ms. Paltz was assigned to do the marketing for two competing companies, one of which Alliance had an ownership stake. The complaint claims Ms. Paltz's supervisors dismissed legal and regulatory concerns she raised regarding the matter. Ms. Paltz was consequently met with increasing hostility from her supervisor, according to the lawsuit. As a result of the retaliatory hostility, Ms. Paltz requested to be assigned to a new supervisor, which human resources denied.

She began raising concerns over unequal pay in the spring of 2019, alleging many of her male colleagues were paid significantly more despite being in the same role with less experience. After months of inquiring about the pay discrepancies, Ms. Paltz was offered a pay increase in December 2019, though still far off from that of her male colleagues, according to the lawsuit. The company's vice president allegedly told Ms. Paltz "too many accommodations" had been made for her during a conversation discussing a pay increase — a reference to the earlier schedule accommodations made for her cancer treatment. 

The lawsuit alleges Ms. Paltz continued to express concern over unequal pay and unlawful business practices through January 2020 and in April, she was fired under the "reduction-in-work" pretext due to the pandemic. Ms. Paltz was the only account executive out of 16 in the company's Northeast region to be terminated under the pretext, according to the complaint. 

Rhonda Longmore-Grund, president and CEO of Alliance HealthCare Services responded to the lawsuit via email: "As a mission-focused, values-driven organization, we are dismayed by the allegations contained in this lawsuit, and intend to vigorously defend our company and Team Members named. We serve more than a million patients a year, who are each facing a healthcare injury, illness or cancer. Alliance insists on and is recognized for our compassionate care, and for our culture of compliance and integrity – which are supported by a myriad of policies and procedures our team members proudly uphold.

"Like so many healthcare organizations across the United States, the pandemic caused circumstances which required restructuring in 2020, including a number of role eliminations; these were very difficult decisions for a company that sees its team members as family. Again, we intend to defend this lawsuit and will not comment further on these allegations at this time."

Editor's note: Becker's updated this article at 3:50 p.m. CST with the statement from Ms. Longmore-Grund. 

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