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Employment - Verdict in favor of Defendant

Case Name:Sanders v. County of Los Angeles
Case Number:BC514539
Verdict Date:2015-06-25
Outcome TypeJury Verdict
Court:Plaintiff Deborah Sanders (African-American) was a temporary long term relief nurse at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. Sanders began working at LAC+USC in 1993, and was terminated from her temporary assignment in October 2012. Sanders was p

Plaintiff's Complaint:
Plaintiff Deborah Sanders (African-American) was a temporary long term relief nurse at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. Sanders began working at LAC+USC in 1993, and was terminated from her temporary assignment in October 2012. Sanders was primarily staffed to work in the Psychiatric Emergency Room. \n\nSanders alleged that she began to experience harassment and discrimination based on her race and national origin in or about January 2012. She alleged that she continually engaged in whistleblowing activities by complaining to her nursing supervisor, Sunday Okundolor (African-American/Nigerian), about patient safety issues, and patient to nurse staffing ratios. Plaintiff alleged she complained regularly in staff meetings. With respect to staffing ratios, Plaintiff alleged that there was a violation of the 4:1 patient to staff ratio in the Psychiatric Emergency Room ("Psych ER"), as proscribed by Title 22 (22 CCR § 70217). Plaintiff also complained about harassment and discrimination in the Psych ER during the course of investigation of other employees' claims of harassment or discrimination by other nursing staff. She claimed her support for others made her a target of her nurse managers (Nigerian and Caucasian).\n\nIn addition to these allegations, Sanders also made claims that she was forced by Defendants to violate HIPAA with respect to patient charting on the computer system used in the Psych ER. She made anonymous complaints about alleged HIPAA violations as a result of improper access of patient records by other nurses.\n\nPlaintiff alleged that she was terminated from her temporary position at the County as a result of making the above complaints, in violation of Labor Code § 1102.5 (whistleblower retaliation) and the FEHA. Plaintiff further alleged that she was terminated because of her race and national origin (African-American/non-Nigerian) because of favoritism displayed to Nigerian nurses in the unit.\n\nSanders also asserted that Mr. Okundolor harassed her by instructing her to cover shifts in other areas of the hospital outside of the Psych ER and beyond her scope of training. Sanders further asserted that the Nursing Director of Emergency Medicine at LAC+USC, Sheila Mallett (Caucasian), harassed her by unjustly blaming work incidents on her and making comments about her being a distraction to other employees.\n\nDefendants presented evidence that Plaintiff had significant performance problems, which was the reason that she was terminated from her temporary relief nurse position at LAC+USC. The defense asserted Plaintiff' inattention and poor performance led to two sentinel events in the Psych ER that resulted in a thorough investigation by Performance Management unit, who ultimately recommended Ms. Sanders' termination, in addition to disciplining other staff.\n\nSpecifically, in June 2012, a psychiatric patient was able to escape from the locked psychiatric emergency room during the night shift by sneaking out of a back door that was left ajar. Plaintiff was involved in this incident, as she came to the psychiatric emergency room an hour after her shift ended. Defendants' contended that Plaintiff' purpose for the visit was to socialize with other employees who were on duty, causing a distraction. An employee who was on duty and tasked with monitoring the patient who escaped was held responsible for the incident, not Plaintiff. However, this incident led management to be concerned about Plaintiff' conduct.\n\nIn August 2012, a patient-on-patient sexual assault occurred during the night shift in locked Psych ER. Several employees were implicated in contributing to the incident for being inattentive to their duties in the Psych ER, including failing to monitor patients and taking improperly long breaks. The incident was self-reported by the County to law enforcement and the Department of Public Health. A full law enforcement investigation was undertaken by the Los Angeles Sheriff' Department, and a male patient was subsequently charged with the sexual assault of a female patient. Law enforcement relied on the psychiatric patients' eyewitness testimony to provide a basis for the assault charge, as the staff in the Psych ER were unable to serve as credible witnesses of the incident because they were inattentive and in certain cases asleep while on duty.\n\nPerformance Management investigators interviewed the employees on duty during the sexual assault incident, and reviewed all document and videotape evidence available. Performance Management concluded that during the incident, Sanders was the acting Charge Nurse for the Psychiatric Emergency Room, and was in view of the middle patient area where the assault occurred and that Sanders failed to monitor the Psych ER patients or ensure another staff member was present in the area to prevent the assault.\n\nNursing administration considered staffing Sanders out of the Psychiatric ED, but ultimately decided that Sanders' conducted merited termination.\n\nPlaintiff' counsel argued that nursing administrators and Performance Management conspired to hold Ms. Sanders responsible for the incidents involving a patient escape and patient sexual assault because of her complaints about patient safety, patient-staff ratios, and reporting of discrimination and harassment. Plaintiff' counsel further asserted that Mr. Okundolor and Ms. Mallett were the moving force behind her release, and targeted her because of bias and bigotry toward her race and national origin.

Injury, Damage, or Loss:
Sanders claimed damages for the loss in earnings, overtime, and benefits she suffered upon termination. She further claimed damages for emotional and physical distress, including that she lost weight and experienced an increase in blood pressure as a result of the harassment, retaliation and discrimination.\n\nSanders claimed that her economic losses exceed $600,000.00, and that her non-economic losses exceed $750,000.00 as to all defendants.

Defendant's Wrongdoing:

Plaintiff's Attorneys:
Helena S. Wise, Esq.\nLAW OFFICES OF HELENA S. WISE\n1907 W. Burbank Boulevard, Suite A\nBurbank, California 91506

Defendant's Attorneys:
David J. Weiss\nLaw Offices of David J. Weiss\n11340 W. Olympic Blvd. Suite 100

Victor E. Chavez, Judge\nLASC Central \nDepartment 52\n111 N. Hill Street\nLos Angeles, CA 90012\nPhone: 213-633-0652

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Published on Apr-29-16


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