Kaiser Forced Employee with Cancer to Retire Early, She Claims
1-30-2015 23:18:00

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Kaiser used unwarranted write-ups to force an employee with cancer to retire early, leaving her with no income, she claims in Sacramento County Superior Court.

     Jo Ann Zepher sued Kaiser Foundation Hospital and two former supervisors – Frank Harrison and Jeremy Rosenberg, for age, race and disability discrimination, constructive termination, retaliation, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
     Zepher also sued her doctor, Kimberly Larson for medical negligence for failing to diagnose her lung cancer until it was so bad she needed her lung removed.
     According to her lawsuit, Zepher had been employed in the nutritional services department of Kaiser’s Morse Avenue facility in Sacramento since 1990.
     “She regularly received positive evaluations, until the arrival of Frank Harrison who had a mission to harass plaintiff (and other senior employees) into ending her employment,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     “In 2008 defendant hospital put a policy into effect to cause its long time employees to retire or be terminated. The particular targets were older women of color and those with disabilities. Kaiser commenced a course of harassment to accomplish its goals, including pretextual write ups. Supervisor Frank Harrison and then Jeremy Rosenberg carried out this program of harassment against plaintiff. These unwarranted attacks were very stressful to plaintiff, as they were designed to be,” Zepher contends.
     Zepher says Harrison told her she had to be on duty at 7:30 a.m. due to complaints about meal service times, although no one else was given that requirement. She says he kicked her in the leg during a meeting and said he did not mean it, then called her at home to demand a doctor’s note when she called in sick the next day, although others did not have to bring doctor’s notes when they were sick. He allowed a male employee to be 45 minutes late for work the same day he criticized her for being five minutes late, she claims.
     In August, she filed a complaint with the department of Fair Employment and Housing “regarding discrimination, harassment, denial of equal pay, false write ups and retaliation. She listed her protected status was under FEHA and she thought the most obvious reason for that discrimination was gender and age,” Zephyr says. She is over 60, according to the complaint.
     After Harrison left and Rosenberg replaced him, “the pattern of harassment and retaliation continued,” the complaint states.
     “Other employees were told not to talk to her when they came to the department. She was called into the office and told she was a negative person and that is why no one likes her . . . So petty were Rosenberg’s complaints, he criticized her fingernails,” it continues. In a dispute over hand washing, Rosenberg told Zepher to go home and threatened to call security when she objected, then a nursing supervisor placed her on leave for insubordination, Zepher claims.
     In August 2013, Kaiser offered Zepher and others a retirement package and “made it clear to Mrs. Zepher she would be fired if she did not accept that early retirement proposal,” she claims.
     “In late 2013 plaintiff belatedly was diagnosed with lung cancer. As they had procured her forced retirement by then, defendant entity did not offer a leave of absence with full medical coverage or any other form of accommodation. Faced with imminent firing, plaintiff reluctantly agreed to retire. Previously during her employment, plaintiff was not apprised of the option to obtain a long-term disability plan through Kaiser. For the first few months after she had to leave the workplace, without unemployment benefits or disability payments, plaintiff had no income. This economic deprivation increased the stress she experienced while she underwent major surgery to remove a lung and suffered through chemotherapy,” the complaint states.
     “Plaintiff is a person of color. The actions taken against her and others, taken in context, had racial overtones,” it continues. She is also over 60, it says.
     Jo Ann Zepher seeks monetary damages of at least $100,000, punitive damages, attorney fees, litigation costs and a jury trial. She is represented by Ellen C. Dove in Sacramento.