Sickened by Mold, Fired for Complaining, Worker Alleges
4-2-2019 01:11:00

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser fired a nurse who complained that workplace exposure to toxic mold was making employees and patients sick, according to her suit filed in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Michelle Lyon sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, and Southern California Permanente Medical Group for violations of the California Health and Safety Code, violations of the California Labor Code, including wrongful termination,  and violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, including disability discrimination, failure to accommodate or to engage in the interactive process, retaliation, constructive discharge, and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation.

Lyon, a registered nurse, worked in defendant Kaiser’s Fontana facility, and worked for Kaiser from 2009 until her discharge in 2017, according to the action.

In February 2016, Lyon and other employees noticed dark specks on their desks and cabinet tops whenever a train went by on nearby tracks. The specks were tested and found to be Aspergilis mold, “a very dangerous substance that could cause serious health problems, even potentially death, to those who were exposed to it,” the suit states.

Lyon says she and others complained orally and in writing to Kaiser management. On Feb. 1, 2016, she and 20 other employees wrote a letter to Kaiser’s environmental safety manager and two others in the Population Care Management Department asking that the mold be abated as an employee and patient safety concern. 

Kaiser “paid lip service” to addressing the issue but employees continued to get sick, the action alleges. The union filed a grievance, and Kaiser cleaned the premises, the complaint claims, but the mold reappeared in May 2016 and employees continued to get sick.

In July and August 2017, Lyon says she made patient safety complaints regarding how population care referrals were handled, and was criticized for making such complaints.

In October 2017, Lyon and three coworkers met with an OSHA investigator, the suit states.

Lyon says she became ill from the mold and was diagnosed with reactive airways disease and occupational asthma. She was placed off work by her doctor from August to October 2017, and her doctor recommended she be reassigned to another work location. Kaiser did not engage in a good faith interactive process, and refused to accommodate her medical restrictions, the action alleges.

Lyon opened a workers’ compensation claim in October 2017. “She was illegally forced to resign as a prerequisite to settling her workers’ compensation claim which action was found to be void and unenforceable by the Workers Compensation Appeals Board,” the suit notes.

Kaiser informed Lyon in writing that she had to return to work or be fired, the complaint charges. When she returned to work in November, she was told she was fired and to go home, the suit states.

She seeks damages for past and future lost wages, benefits and other employment benefits, damages for past and future pain, suffering and emotional distress, damages for past and future medical costs, reinstatement and back pay, interest, legal costs and punitive damages.

Lyon is represented by Michael F. Baltaxe, Timothy B. Sottile, Payam I. Aframian and Victoria V. Felder of Sottile Baltaxe in Westlake Village, California.