Nurse Blames Firing on Complaints of Overload, Action Alleges
7-9-2019 16:01:00

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Kaiser fired an assistant department manager after she made protected complaints of unsafe working conditions and medical practices, according to an action filed in San Diego County Superior Court.

Wanda Woten sued Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Todd Gapen, and Brett Partridge, M.D., for wrongful termination, discrimination and harassment, and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment for age/gender/disability/veteran status, retaliation, Labor Code violations and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Wanda Woten, 59, a licensed registered nurse was hired by Kaiser in January 2016 as an assistant manager in the gastroenterology department. In 2017, defendant Partridge became the chief physician for the department and defendant Gapen became the department manager, according to the action.

Partridge and Gapen overscheduled procedures, and Woten says she notified them that “the department was understaffed and unable to handle the increased patient load,” the suit states, and “that staff were missing breaks and suffering from work-related injuries and stress as a result of the increased patient load and decreased staffing.” Woten says there were eight staff members out on leave at the same time for job-related injuries.

Gapen and Partridge then labeled Wotan as an “obstructionist,” even notifying Human Resources and making it known to other Kaiser employees that she was an obstructionist, the action alleges.

At one point, Partridge scheduled three procedures on the same date and time. When Woten complained it would not be possible due to staffing shortages, Partridge told her to get the sedated patients out sooner, “implying that the patients should be moved or released without giving them an adequate time to recover from the effects of anesthesia,” the suit states.

When Woten complained about the dangers of doing that, Partridge and Gapen retaliated against her protected right to report unsafe medical practices by “treating her in a hostile and offensive manner,” making it virtually impossible for her to do her assigned duties, belittling her on a regular basis, and telling other staff not to respond to her emails or assignments, the action alleges.

Woten was so uncomfortable when Gapen repeatedly called her into his office for closed-door meetings that she moved her office down the hallway to get away from Gapen. Then Gapen told staff that Woten was “relocating” in a way that implied she was no longer working for the department, the complaint charges.

Partridge told Woten “to get her head out of her ass” when she was not ready for a procedure because she had not been notified of a schedule change, and he told staff that Woten “didn’t know what the fuck she was doing,” the suit states.

Their “boy’s club atmosphere” left Woten out of the decision-making process and limited her access to important information. If she voiced an opinion, she was reminded in a closed-door meeting that she was “not one of the boys,” according to the action.

Partridge stormed around yelling orders “to get her to crack under the stress he was putting on her,” and he mocked her military service and intimated that her service-induced post-traumatic stress disorder was a joke. Partridge also made derogatory remarks about Woten’s service to staff.

Partridge and Gapen gave Woten a poor performance review and accused her of coercing her staff into filing a complaint with Compliance and Human Resources due to the way in which they treated Woten. 

During the meeting, Woten was also reminded of a previous incident, where she had accidentally sent out an email to more recipients than she intended. Woten says she had already apologized for the mistake and the unintended recipients previously knew about the contents of the email, which was not of a sensitive nature. Nevertheless, she was told the mishap “could result in her termination.” She was put on two-week suspension, and when she returned to work on Jan. 6, 2019, she was put on mundane tasks until she was fired on March 14.

Woten seeks special, compensatory and punitive damages, interest and legal costs. She is represented by Donald R. Holben and Jack S. Fischer of Donald R. Holben & Associates, APC, in San Diego, California.