Lessons From Winning Cases

Two Nurses Who Spoke Up, Lost Their Jobs, and Sued

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD

Disclosures

April 08, 2016

In This Article

Speaking Up About Safety

Linda Boly, RN, had worked at a Portland, Oregon, hospital for 34 years. She had always had solid evaluations. At 57, she was performing preoperative assessments, which involved taking medical histories by phone, reviewing lab tests, and giving patients pre-op instructions.

Recently, the hospital had not been replacing nurses who left the unit, and the nurses who remained were being squeezed increasingly tighter. Under a productivity management program at the hospital, Boly and a coworker were told that they must conduct 8-10 preoperative evaluations every day. She worked hard to make the quota, and eventually did meet it, but was cited three times for failing to meet quotas. Then supervisors switched Boly and her colleague from pre-op to post-op.

Boly pointed out to supervisors that the unit was rushing patients on the preoperative side. She also worried, she says now, that some postop patients, still under the effects of sedation, were being left in wheelchairs in the hall, and that one would fall out of the chair and be injured.

Sometimes Boly would stay late after the end of her shift to complete her documentation, and was cited for working off the clock. Other nurses worked off the clock and were not cited for it. Boly was also cited for failing to attend to a new post-op patient right away when, at the same time, she was waiting for another patient, who was unstable, to finish in the bathroom. Another nurse had offered to take the new patient, so Boly hadn't worried about his safety.

At one point, a supervisor remarked to Boly, "As we get older, we all slow down." That surprised her, because she was efficient and hard-working and other nurses had even remarked about how hard she worked. She had not experienced this level of scrutiny and criticism before, even though she had advocated years earlier in support of changes in Oregon's nurse staffing laws.

Then she was fired. Her grievance went nowhere. She was hurt and frustrated. She found an attorney, Mick Seidl of Portland, who agreed to take the case. In 2013, they filed a case against the hospital for age discrimination and termination in violation of public policy. They brought in witnesses—other nurses who testified that indeed, patients were being rushed and patient safety was affected. In 2015, after a 2-week trial, a jury awarded Boly more than $3 million ($916,000 in lost wages through age 67, $625,000 for emotional distress, and $1.5 million in punitive damages), plus attorney's fees. The hospital has appealed. Boly has not yet received the money, nor will she until the appeals are completed.

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