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Judge tells social worker suing Kaiser to amend complaint

A California social worker who is suing her former employer, Kaiser Permanente, was told by a federal judge that she needs to provide more facts to support her case. The judge also ruled that she cannot use the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act to claim retaliation.

The licensed clinical social worker says that although she was fired for disciplinary reasons in 2012, in fact Kaiser terminated her because she reported a dangerous work environment. The previous year, she says she was told by another therapist at the San Francisco Kaiser facility where she worked that a patient the therapist was treating had threatened to kill the social worker. The plaintiff says that she asked Kaiser to obtain a restraining order against the patient, but they brushed off the threat and did nothing to protect her.

In May 2012, the plaintiff was terminated for looking at the patient’s medical records and for leaving a suicidal patient unattended. She says that the second claim is false. She contends that she was fired in retaliation for claiming that the patient’s death threat made the Kaiser facility an unsafe environment for staff and patients.

Although the judge ruled that the plaintiff did not show enough evidence that she had adequately expressed her safety concerns to Kaiser or that she had a basis for these concerns, he did not dismiss the case, as Kaiser had requested. He found that Kaiser had removed the plaintiff’s hospital privileges and fired her without giving her notice or a hearing, or even informing her that she was entitled to a hearing.

Since Kaiser did not give the plaintiff due process, the judge allowed the complaint to move forward if she provides more detail. She and her attorney, who works for Justice First of Oakland, California, have twenty days to amend the complaint.

Employment law can be very complicated. It is essential when filing a lawsuit against an employer (particularly a behemoth like Kaiser) that the attorney uses the right law(s) to support the case. It appears, at least from this judge’s ruling, that California’s Whistleblower Protection Act was not the appropriate basis for the lawsuit, and that the evidence as laid out was not strong enough. At least the plaintiff was given a second chance to present her case. Whether or not she continues with the same attorney is still to be determined.

Courthouse News Service, “Kaiser Worker’s Retaliation Case Needs Work” Matt Reynolds, Sep. 20, 2013

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