Kaiser Sought a Scapegoat, Fired Nurse Claims
3-7-2019 23:53:00

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser sought a scapegoat after a patient was discharged wearing only a hospital gown and socks, a fired nurse claims in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Sunita Nigam sued Kaiser Permanente and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals for race/national origin discrimination, age discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, whistleblower retaliation/termination, wrongful termination, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of implied-in-fact contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Nigam had worked for Kaiser since 2016 and received exemplary performance reviews, until she was wrongly accused of discharging a 90-year-old patient in a taxi, wearing a hospital gown and socks, according to the lawsuit.

The patient, William Lee, and his family are not parties to the lawsuit.

Nigam, 58, contends the April 5, 2018 incident was not her responsibility, and that she was blamed because of media publicity surrounding it, and because of her race and age.

Her lawsuit states:

“Ms. Nigam was made the scapegoat for the highly publicized incident because Kaiser had to find someone to blame in an effort to claim it had taken corrective action. Rather than discipline the parties who actually were responsible for this dangerous and improper discharge, Ms. Nigam was terminated for reasons that are discriminatory, retaliatory and in breach of contract.”

The appropriate procedure for the patient, who was being discharged to an assisted living facility, would have been to send him in a wheelchair van, which would have picked him up at his bedside and delivered him to the inside of the facility, Nigam says. A taxi would leave him at the curb, she continues.

Nigam says she raised concerns about the planned method of discharge, but the patient care coordinator and assistant department manager did not listen to her. She was not on shift when the patient was discharged and another nurse was responsible for seeing that he was properly dressed, Nigam says.

The complaint states:

“After the discharge, Mr. Lee’s family called to ask about his status because they were planning on his discharge in two days. Defendants advised the family that the patient was already at the assisted living facility. The family was understandably shocked to hear that Mr. Lee had been discharged as they had previously been told that the patient was going to be discharged on April 7, 2018. Understandably, when the family discovered the circumstances of the discharge and how their family member had been sent by himself in a taxi, inappropriately dressed, to the assisted living center, they were outraged and notified the media to complain about Kaiser’s shabby treatment of their family member.”

Four days later, the State Inspector of Public Health began an investigation and interviewed Nigam, the complaint continues. The day after that, Nigam’s supervisor began asking her repeatedly for information about what she had disclosed to the interviewer, it says.

According to Nigam's lawsuit:

“After the extremely negative media coverage surrounding Mr. Lee’s discharge, Kaiser was anxious to appear proactive and redeem its public image. However, they failed to hold those who were responsible, accountable. Kaiser conducted a sham ‘investigation’ which resulted in the finding of Ms. Nigam inexplicably determined to be guilty of numerous improprieties, even though virtually no facts were found to support Kaiser’s findings.”

“Plaintiff, who is Asian American-Indian, was discriminated against and received disparate and unfavorable treatment from defendants, compared to similarly situated employees, on the basis of her national origin,” the complaint states.

The patient care manager, assistant department manager and nurse on duty were all Hispanic and in their 20’s, 30’s or early 40’s, according to the complaint.

Sunita Nigam seeks general, special and punitive damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, costs of suit and a jury trial. She is represented by Andrea Justo and Lori Costanzo of the Costanzo Law Firm in San Jose.