Kaiser Wrongfully Fired Billing Clerk, She Says
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Kaiser misrepresented a billing clerk’s medical restrictions, made her cry, and then fired her on a pretext after her boss took embarrassing pictures of her rear.
Rhonda St. Julian-Walker sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and her former boss, Ben Perry, for retaliation, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, failure to engage in a timely good faith interactive process, disability-based harassment, discrimination, wrongful retaliatory termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, breach of employment contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair-dealing and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
According to her 18-page lawsuit, Rhonda St. Julian-Walker worked as a medical billing clerk at Kaiser. “Other than a brief period of time away from Kaiser in 1999 and 2000, Kaiser had employed Ms. Walker for the past 20 years,” it states.
During late 2010, most of 2011 and early 2012, St. Julian-Walker had two bouts with health trouble requiring modified work duty, she says. The first time she had “neck pain as well as right upper extremity discomfort,” and the second time she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and had surgery for it, according to her complaint.
Although she was back on full-time duty, including some overtime, in March 2012, she had a medical-legal evaluation in June as part of a workers’ compensation claim, according to the complaint. The evaluating physician’s report outlined some restrictions and stated “I do not believe the applicant will be able to return to her usual and customary job unless her employer is able to comply with the restrictions I have outlined,” but Kaiser did not discuss the restrictions with St. Julian-Walker, she says in her complaint.
In January 2013, the complaint continues, the billing department’s manager “was removed from her position and Ben Perry was appointed manager of the department.”
On Feb. 1, St. Julian-Walker says she called in sick because of a flare-up of her wrist. On Feb. 4, she gave her former boss a doctor’s note excusing her from work for one more day, which the former boss gave to Perry, she says. “Immediately thereafter,” the complaint states, Perry, St. Julian-Walker and her former boss had a conversation in Perry’s office in which Perry sent St. Julian-Walker home. “Mr. Perry informed me of his unilateral decision in a rude and hostile manner,” she recounts.
St. Julian-Walker came back to work on Feb. 6, “and once again she had no contact with Mr. Perry or any Kaiser manager regarding her work conditions, the pain in her hand, or any reasonable accommodations,” her complaint states.
On Feb. 14, she says she gave Perry a doctor’s note clearing her to work 6-7 hours a day, instead of the previous 5-6 hours a day she had been cleared to work. Later that day, a union representative showed up at her desk, saying Perry wanted to meet with her, and the three of them went into his office, her complaint continues. During the meeting, a human resources disability coordinator, via speakerphone, told St. Julian-Walker not to return to work the next day and that her doctor had said she was not supposed to be working at all, although that was untrue, according to the complaint. The disability coordinator then said St. Julian-Walker’s attorney and Kaiser had agreed she would not work anymore, and went on to say “she was going to place Ms. St. Julian-Walker on ‘transitional status.’ Ms. St. Julian-Walker understood that ‘transitional status’ meant that she was going to be terminated. At that point, hopeless to be accomplishing any good-faith interaction, Ms. St. Julian-Walker stood up and walked out,” according to the complaint.
Upset by the meeting, St. Julian-Walker says she “suffered from a complete mental breakdown after leaving the meeting and returning to her cubicle,” and began packing a box to leave, accidentally knocking some papers onto the floor. “As Ms. St. Julian-Walker bent down to pick up the papers she had knocked to the floor, and while she was on her hands and knees, Ben Perry appeared with his cell phone and proceeded to take pictures of Ms. St. Julian-Walker’s rear as [s]he was bending over in her humiliated and vulnerable state. This caused even more humiliation and distress. Ms. St. Julian-Walker continued to clean out her cubicle, restored the papers to their proper location and left. Once she was removed from the hostile environment, she was again overcome with emotion and started crying,” she says.
After this, she was put on an Industrial Leave of Absence, and “ultimately defendants terminated her employment of 20 years on April 2, 2013, under a manufactured and false pretense.”
St. Julian-Walker contends she was fired because of her wrist and that “instead of engaging with Ms. St. Julian-Walker in an interactive process and providing her with an accommodation, Kaiser refused to allow Ms. St. Julian-Walker to work. When Ms. St. Julian-Walker broke down after being put on indefinite leave and sent home, Kaiser used her emotional breakdown as grounds for termination. Ms. St. Julian-Walker alleges on information and belief that Ben Perry, who took photographs of Ms. Walker on her hands and knees, attempting to clean up her cubicle, was not disciplined in any way for this callous invasion of privacy and humiliation,” according to her complaint.
St. Julian-Walker seeks general, special and punitive damages, reinstatement, prejudgment interest, attorney’s fees, costs of suit, statutory penalties and a jury trial. She is represented by A. Cabral Bonner of Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, Calif.