A certified nursing assistant who said she was fired from a Maine nursing home when she spoke up about reduced staffing levels that jeopardized patients’ safety is getting another shot at her lawsuit.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in its recent ruling of Cormier v. Genesis Healthcare LLC, found a reasonable jury could conclude the adverse employment action was substantially motivated by retaliatory intent. That means the case should not have been decided by summary judgment from a judge, but rather, it should have had the chance to go to trial before a jury.
Now, with the case remanded, plaintiff will have that chance.
Although this matter is technically an employment law case, it’s of interest to our Bangor nursing home injury lawyers because these kinds of abuses so often go unreported. Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable in our communities, and they often cannot speak for themselves when they suffer abuse or neglect.
A growing number of these facilities are for-profit, and they make a great deal of money while slashing the number of available staff and the overall quality of care. This is when we start to see issues like:
- Nursing home falls
- Pressure sores
- Poor dental hygiene (leading to infection)
- Medication errors
Any one of these can result in severe injury and even death.
By protecting the rights of nursing home workers who speak out when known risk factors of these dangerous conditions arise, we are ultimately protecting those in their care.
According to court records in the Cormier case, plaintiff began working at defendant nursing home in Scarborough in 2002. Seven years later, the company cut staffing levels on plaintiff’s shift. Where there were once four or five certified nursing assistants on staff, there were now usually only three.
That meant workers couldn’t attend to patients quickly when they rang their bells. They couldn’t get patients quickly enough to the bathroom, meaning sometimes they soiled their bedding. Those patients who became impatient with this often tried to get to the restroom on their own, which substantially increased their risk of falls.
In 2011, plaintiff finally spoke up about this to her supervisor, stating she was concerned about patient safety. She also throughout that year made complaints to the charge nurse about not being able to answer the calls promptly. Then in December 2011, the facility lost power, and plaintiff told the nurse educator there weren’t enough CNAs to get the residents up for dinner while also dealing with the power outage.
Days later, plaintiff was approached by her supervisor who indicated a charge nurse had overheard a co-worker talking about plaintiff hitting a patient on the hand. Plaintiff was confused at first, but then explained a resident had become combative and she tried to hold his hand so he couldn’t hit her. She was suspended pending an investigation.
The following day, plaintiff called the supervisor to tell her she just realized she hadn’t been working in that resident’s wing on the day of the alleged incident and her statement was incorrect. The facility fired her anyway.
She filed a complaint alleging her termination constituted retaliation in violation of the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act.
Trial court ruled that while there was a dispute of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s staffing complaints were protected activity pursuant to the act, summary judgment was granted to the defense on grounds plaintiff had not demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to the causal connection between staffing complaints and her termination.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court disagreed.
If you are the victim of a Bangor nursing home injury, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Cormier v. Genesis Healthcare LLC, Dec. 15, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Estate of Benson – Compensation for Fatal Criminal Attack, Dec. 30, 2015, Bangor Nursing Home Injury Lawyer Blog