Kaiser Won't Accommodate Nurse's Cancer Treatment, She Says
By Barbara Wallace
LOS ANGELES (CN) - When a nurse needed time off and other accommodations for breast cancer treatments to save her life, Kaiser demoted and transferred her, assigned her to work in the flu department although her doctors warned that an infection could kill her, forced her to work through her lunch hour to "make up" time she spent at chemotherapy appointments, and ultimately fired her, she claims in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Petra Albert sued Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. for disability discrimination, failure to engage in interactive process, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination or retaliation, wrongful termination, failure to provide meal periods, failure to provide rest periods, waiting time penalties and failure to provide accurate wage statements.
Albert, with 25 years' experience in the nursing field, was hired by Kaiser in 2009 as a nurse educator, "using her experience to teach and supervise nurses on first-aid, CPR and other competencies. Within just over a year, Ms. Albert's success at Kaiser was rewarded with a promotion to Assistant Department Administrator (ADA) and a notable raise," her complaint states.
However, her employment with Kaiser roughly coincided with a breast cancer diagnosis, which required a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in Oct. 2010, Albert says. "When she returned, she received no communication from Kaiser regarding her condition or any need for accommodation. Instead, Ms. Albert received callous comments and attitudes from her supervisors, including comments belittling her serious cancer as 'that thing in [her] breast,' " according to the complaint. (Brackets in original.). "Ms. Albert was forced to immediately return to a 60-hour work week the very same month of her surgery and from the beginning received unprecedented criticism of her performance, micromanaging and hostility," the complaint continues.
In Feb. 2011, Albert's cancer was found to have returned and spread to her bones, necessitating another medical leave for chemotherapy, after which she returned to work in Aug. 2011, the complaint says. "Upon her return, Ms. Albert was forcibly transferred out of her prestigious position at her local hospital to an undesirable location in a floater position. Ms. Albert's new supervisor made no secret of her desire for Ms. Albert to quit, going so far as to threaten that Ms. Albert would hate her life if she continued to work for Kaiser. Kaiser also failed to accommodate Ms. Albert's continued need for weekly chemotherapy. Kaiser required Ms. Albert to skip meal and rest periods and work extended hours on the days she received chemotherapy to 'make up' for the time, but that was not enough: Ms. Albert's supervisor also demanded that Ms. Albert come in early two other days a week on top of the extended hours to supposedly also 'make up' for the chemotherapy day," Albert alleges.
The complaint goes on to say that Albert was transferred to the flu program against medical orders. "Before her return, Ms. Albert's doctors warned her that chemotherapy could seriously weaken her immune system and exposure to infections such as the flu could be disastrous or even fatal. Kaiser, however, did not attempt to accommodate Ms. Albert but rather put her in charge of the flu program, putting her health at serious risk," it says. (Emphasis in original.) In Oct. 2011, Albert's white blood cell count dropped "precipitously," and "doctors advised her that she could die if she continued to work for Kaiser and be exposed to infected patients," the complaint continues, saying Albert took another leave of absence, involving more chemotherapy and surgeries.
When Albert returned this time, she says, "Kaiser called her into a meeting on her day off to 'discuss' her new job assignment and duties. The meeting's insulting intent became clear when the Kaiser personnel repeatedly rolled their eyes at Ms. Albert, ridiculed the dress and shoes she was wearing on her day off, and outrageously threatened Ms. Albert with termination if she did not 'improve' her dress - despite the fact that the dress was entirely professional, medium sleeved, and not skin-baring or otherwise inappropriate. Ms. Albert withstood these intentional insults and refused to give in to the pressure to resign. Kaiser therefore took it one step further and again forcibly transferred and banished her to Kaiser's Santa Ana location."
When Albert again requested accommodation in the form of time off for chemotherapy, the complaint says, "Kaiser responded by refusing the request and terminating Ms. Albert's employment."
Plaintiff seeks general and special damages, prejudgment and postjudgment interest, punitive and exemplary damages, attorney's fees and costs of suit. She is represented by Samuel Wong and Christina K. Dallen of the Aegis Law Firm in Irvine, Calif.