By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On November 2, 2017, a former elder care facility executive was awarded a $1.5 million verdict by a federal jury in Washington state. Irene Riggs claims she was fired for complaining about the “sexually charged” environment created by a supervisor’s inappropriate conduct with a nurse. After a three-day trial, the jury awarded her over $232,000 in lost wages up to the date of trial, nearly $802,000 in future lost wages and $500,000 for loss of enjoyment of life after she was fired by Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America Inc. (Life Care).
Alleged Sex Discrimination.
In her suit, the plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to a “sexually charged atmosphere” by a regional vice president, who was her supervisor beginning in 2013, and a registered nurse with whom he was purportedly in a relationship. Riggs alleged the two fondled each other in an office and regularly engaged in intimate conversation, among other inappropriate things, according to court documents. Additionally, she complained on behalf of herself and colleagues about the conduct directly to the regional vice president, who allegedly became angry and later lodged a complaint with human resources.
In a pretrial brief, the plaintiff said that Life Care’s primary reason for firing her (mental abuse of a resident by unplugging his television) was not true and used as a cover for the real reason. In response, Life Care said that her firing couldn’t constitute discrimination. The company argued that she didn’t report a quid pro quo relationship or a hostile work environment, which are the two types of sex discrimination recognized by the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
She was employed at Life Care’s Sandpoint facility from September 2006 until she was fired on February 1, 2016.
The Jury’s Decision.
The jury determined that Riggs had provided sufficient evidence to show that she opposed what she believed was sex discrimination. Moreover, she was able to show that her report of alleged misconduct by a supervisor was a substantial motivating factor in her firing, and that Life Care didn’t offer a valid justification for her dismissal, according to the verdict.
To read the jury’s verdict in this case, click here.
To learn about a similar case involving sexual harassment and discrimination, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
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Gurrieri, Vin. “Nursing Home Chain Hit With $1.5M Verdict In Sex Bias Suit.” Law360. (November 2, 2017). Web.
“Nursing Home Chain Hit With $1.5M Verdict In Sex Bias Lawsuit.” Lexis Nexis. (November 2, 2017). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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