Fired LA Nurse Claims Retaliation by Kaiser's Dr. Kliger
4-23-2020 02:46:00

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Kaiser fired a nurse who made good-faith complaints about discrimination and questionable practices, according to her lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Tarina Marie sued Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, David Kliger and Lorraine Ward for wrongful termination and violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, including employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of age and disability, failure to engage in the interactive process or to provide reasonable accommodations, retaliation for engaging in a protected activity, and failure to prevent discrimination, harassment or retaliation, in addition to intentional infliction of emotional distress, and California Labor Code violations including retaliation for reporting a work place injury and filing for workers’ compensation, and whistleblower retaliation.

Plaintiff Marie, who is 62, was hired as a psychiatric registered nurse in 2001, and she worked in defendant Kaiser’s Downey location, according to the action. At the time she was hired, she had 19 years of experience as a registered nurse, often working night shifts and, at times, two jobs at a time to support her children as a single mother. 

While working at Kaiser, Marie was a union steward. Defendant Kliger reportedly stated in one of Marie’s performance reviews that her union duties interfered with her nursing duties, “which was not the case. Instead, Marie was the only RN in a severely understaffed department,” the suit states.

Kliger also complained if Marie relayed patients’ concerns to him, as she was required to do by law, according to the action. Kliger would respond to medication questions by telling her, “why can’t you just change the order and increase the dosage?,” which was outside her scope of practice. He also told her to stop sending patient messages to him, which he was legally required to review. Marie says she frequently complained to her other supervisors about “Kliger’s clearly inappropriate requests,” the suit states, but nothing was done.

In 2011, the complaint notes that Marie developed a carpel tunnel injury in her right wrist due to the computer work she was doing “without proper ergonomics.” She filed a workers’ compensation claim and her doctors placed her off work for several weeks. When she returned to work, she had medical restrictions in the form of shortened work days (eight hours instead of the usual ten), and more frequent rest breaks.

Kliger was increasingly hostile to Marie, reportedly turning red with anger when he saw her taking her doctor-ordered rest breaks. After Marie handled an incident with an angry patient in 2012, she was placed on a Level 4 disciplinary action, supposedly for not acting quickly enough and for violating the HIPAA patient privacy law by speaking in the chart area, “where private information was frequently discussed,” the suit states.

Feeling that “one wrong move” would result in her being fired, Marie asked her doctor to take her off her medical restrictions. She also learned that the supervisor who had protected her from being fired outright was demoted.

In 2013, while trying to open a door that was very heavy, which had a malfunctioning lock that Kliger had refused to have repaired, Marie slipped, fell and broke her right wrist in two places, the action states. She again filed a workers’ compensation claim and was treated by Kaiser on the Job. She felt she was not getting adequate care, but her request to see a hand surgeon was denied. 

Marie later had to have surgery on her wrist and was told if she had not gotten the surgery, she would have lost the use of her hand. She was also told that the prior treatment she had received through Kaiser on the Job, being put in a cast, had been inappropriate. The suit states that her surgeon informed her “that her wrist should have never been placed in a cast.”

On her return to work, again with restrictions, including a recommendation that the department install Dragon Speak software for her so she would not have to type, Marie says she was accused of manipulating the doctors for an accommodation she did not need. Kliger again targeted her, asking her “what is wrong with you?” when she was too slow to complete a task. In February 2014, he told her that things were changing in the department and that she “may want to find another place to work,” and she should “move on,” the suit states.

As a result, Marie asked for a transfer, but her restriction against giving shots prevented the transfer from being finalized during the 30 day orientation period. Marie says she reported the discrimination to the Human Resource department, but nothing was done.

On her return back to the Downey location, Kliger’s behavior toward Marie was reportedly even more hostile, with constant scowls, turning angry red, crossing his arms, refusing to look her in the eye, turning his back on her and speaking to her in a “cruel, condescending way.” 

In 2015, a new supervisor was hired, and Marie was called in for “at least five or six investigations,” of incidents that had supposedly occurred before the supervisor even arrived.  All but one were unsubstantiated, and the other one resulted in a Level 1 disciplinary action against Marie, even though the witnesses backed Marie, according to the action.

In 2018, a new policy paired doctors with nurses, and Marie was paired with Kliger. On learning this, Marie reportedly made complaints about this pairing, fearing retaliation from Kliger.

Shortly after she made these complaints, Marie was fired while she was out of work on medical leave. 

Marie seeks general and special damages, exemplary damages, injunctive relief, interest and legal costs and fees.

The plaintiff is represented by Michael Zelman and Taylor M. Prainito of the Southern California Labor Law Group, P.C. in Los Angeles, California.