Advocating for Patient Safety Gets Nurse Fired, She claims
ALAMEDA, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser fired a surgical nurse who filed numerous complaints regarding patient safety, according to her Alameda County Superior Court case.
Yupa Assawasuksant sued The Permanente Medical Group, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Latasha Moore, Vanessa Martinez, Robert Airoso, Calvin McFarlane, Todd Cunningham and Sean McNeal, for California Health and Safety Code violations, and California Labor Code violations, including race-based harassment and discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, negligent supervision, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, and defamation.
Assawasuksant has worked as a surgical nurse for Kaiser in Richmond, California since 2009. In 2013, she says she filed a grievance regarding defendant Kaiser’s failure to provide enough nurses to care for the medically fragile patients. She says she was so concerned about these unsafe practices that she joined three committees to improve patient care and employee work conditions.
In 2014, she was warned that if she continued to file the complaints, her performance reviews would be affected, but she persisted. In May 2015, a supervisor was so frustrated with her complaints that “he threw a sheet with bloody stool at her,” according to the action. She then filed another grievance, and when nothing was done, she escalated it with Human Resources.
In November 2015, Assawasuksant learned that supervisor had been promoted, despite her complaints and the complaints of other nurses, the suit says. Meanwhile, her own promotion was blocked.
Assawasuksant also protested a new policy regarding when in the shift a nurse received her patient assignment. She got several other nurses to protest as well, and the new policy was rescinded. The supervisor who had initiated the policy then began a campaign of harassment toward Assawasuksant, according to the action.
After Assawasuksant filed another grievance regarding staffing ratios, she was placed on administrative leave. She escalated her grievances to the National Labor Relations Board and the California Occupational Health Association (Cal/OSHA), and in response, Cal/OSHA fined Kaiser. In retaliation, Kaiser suspended Assawasuksant for three days without pay, gave her a final written warning, changed her schedule and had someone follow her while she was working, the suit says.
Due to the harsh retaliation, Assawasuksant’s doctor put her on medical leave. “On or around May 10, 2016, Senior Human Resources Consultant Bruce Patton inadvertently emailed Ms. Assawasuksant. The email discussed how Kaiser planned to continue its retaliation against Ms. Assawasuksant,” the suit says.
Despite being transferred, Assawasuksant continued to file grievances on behalf of patients because “Kaiser was admitting oncology patients to the wrong unit,” “bed alarms for high-risk patients were not working,” and other deficiencies totaling “around eighteen grievances,” according to the action.
Shortly after, Assawasuksant was accused of failing to provide a care plan for a patient. There was no documentation that the patient had been assigned to her and when she asked Kaiser to produce the patient’s chart, Kaiser refused, she says.
When Cal/OSHA again fined Kaiser in response to one of her complaints, she was fired. “Throughout Ms. Assawasuksant’s employment, her supervisors would ridicule and humiliate her to co-workers and spread false rumors about her,” the action notes. Much of the harassment was also race-based, she says.
Assawasuksant seeks reinstatement, reimbursement of lost wages and benefits, general, special, compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, interest and legal costs, in addition to any other damages the court deems just.
The plaintiff is represented by Maria Bourn of the Law Offices of Tanya Gomerman in San Francisco, California.