Fired on a Pretext for Reporting HIPAA Violation, Woman Claims
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (CN) - Kaiser managers said a woman was not trustworthy, but retaliation was the reason she was fired, she claims in a Los Angeles Superior Court complaint.
Belinda Branch began working at Kaiser’s Parkview Building as a medical assistant in 1978, earning “exemplary” job performance evaluations over the next 34 years.
In 2014, she became the focus of an investigation after reporting a Kaiser employee for sharing a patient’s private medical information with two other employees without consent, in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The medical records released and obtained by the other employees contained private and sensitive medical information, including information contained in the General Surgery File, according to the complaint.
Branch was called into two meetings where she was confronted by “compliance” officers who she says were hostile, angry and repetitive in their interrogation-style questioning.
She was called into a third meeting on June 4, 2014 and told that, “her employment with Kaiser was being terminated and gave [her] an ultimatum of either resigning and be allowed to receive unemployment benefits or being fired and to not be able to obtain unemployment benefits,” the complaint states.
She added that the Human Resources department informed her that she had to write the resignation letter immediately and that she would be fired if she didn’t write it using the exact wording provided to her. Branch says it was only under “coercion and manipulation” that she did so.
“Ironically, plaintiff was being punished for following the law and reporting HIPAA violations and for doing the right thing in looking out for the privacy rights of a Kaiser patient,” the complaint states.
When asked why she was being fired, Kaiser responded by telling her she committed “egregious acts” and that she “was no longer a trusted employee at Kaiser.”
No action was ever taken against the employees who violated the federal law, according to Branch who noted that all three are younger, “outside plaintiff’s protected class” and were “treated more favorably.”
Plaintiff was fired for false and pretextual reasons, in retaliation for her whistle-blowing and based on age, the complaint states.
Branch sued Kaiser Permanente and Southern California Permanente Medical Group for age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of state labor laws.
She seeks general and special damages for loss of past and future earnings, and benefits; damage to reputation; failure to advance employment; and loss of job privileges.
Branch is represented by Michael Carr, in Monrovia, Calif.; and Roman Otkupman, in Woodland Hills, Calif.