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UPMC contends it is not subject to affirmative action audits

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 1:21 p.m.

A trio of civil rights groups and a labor union on Monday filed briefs in a Washington federal appeals court, joining a government battle to regulate UPMC as a federal contractor subject to affirmative action compliance audits.

The National Women's Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Partnership for Women & Families joined in one brief, while SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania filed a second one. Both filings contend that UPMC's arguments aim to scuttle affirmative action protections that have governed federal contractors for decades.

UPMC provided service to federal employees at its UPMC Braddock, McKeesport and South Side hospitals between 2003 and 2006 under the UPMC Health Plan.

But the health care giant has insisted it is not a federal contractor or subcontractor and has fought government efforts to regulate it as such since 2004.

“UPMC entities that are federal contractors or subcontractors fully comply with (Office of Federal Compliance Program) requirements,” said UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps.

“These filings by the SEIU and other special interest groups blatantly misrepresent the issues in the Office of Federal Compliance Programs matter as well as UPMC's position in that litigation,” Kreps said.

The distinction is the focus of a long-running legal battle in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, where UPMC is appealing a federal ruling from March that found that it was subject to the regulations and compliance audits.

“Also at issue is whether certain Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program regulations would impermissibly require UPMC to make employment decisions based on race or gender. UPMC has asserted that they would; OFCCP has argued that they would not,” Kreps said.

Kreps said UPMC “complies with and embraces all local, state and federal anti-discrimination requirements.”

UPMC and its supporters—including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pennsylvania Hospital and Health System Association and several other groups that filed briefs in court — claim that allowing the government to audit UPMC as a federal subcontractor would establish a vast expansion of the federal government regulation and could increase health care costs at facilities across the nation.

Paula Bussard, senior vice president for policy and regulatory services for the Pennsylvania Hospital and Health System Association said hospitals already must adhere to state and federal civil rights act regulations.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Labor said UPMC received more than $3.5 million for services to federal employees between 2003 and 2006, and that UPMC “cannot reap the benefits of government contracting” while ignoring the conditions placed on the contracts.

Were the government to prevail in the UPMC case, it could add to the burden for hospitals and “doesn't really improve health care,” she said.

Fatima Goss Graves, a lawyer for the National Women's Law Center said the organization joined the legal battle after UPMC argued in its appeal that the 50-year-old Executive Order that established affirmative action regulations for federal contractors is not valid.

“They have made pretty sweeping challenges against decades of the law,” she said.

Neal Bison, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, echoed her concerns.

“What UPMC is attempting to do is undo this, not just for themselves but for all federal contractors. It is really bullying behavior that would set back protections for women and people of color for decades,” Bisno said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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