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Fired Hospital Worker Loses Retaliation Case

(CN) - A hospital transplant coordinator's candid discussions with her co-workers about an alleged staffing crisis and heart misallocation were not protected speech, the 10th Circuit ruled, dismissing the fired employee's First Amendment retaliation claim.

University of Colorado Hospital employee Lisa Rohrbough said hospital officials and her former manager fired her in 2004 in retaliation for exercising her right to free speech.

In 2002, Rohrbough voiced concerns that a staffing crisis was affecting the quality of patient care, as medical tests were being performed "extremely late" and charts were not getting reviewed in a timely manner.

The Denver-based appeals court upheld the district court's ruling that Rohrbough's complaints to co-workers and supervisors about the alleged staffing crisis were made as part or her official duties as transplant coordinator in the heart transplant unit.

When she learned of a possible heart transplant misallocation and cover-up at the hospital, she reported it to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a congressional organization that administers organ transplants.

The appeals court ruled that although Rohrbough's reporting to the UNOS went beyond her normal job of contacting UNOS to list a patient for an organ transplant, she failed to show that her report led to her firing.

Rohrbough's supervisor testified that she had no knowledge of Rohrbough's UNOS reporting before firing her.

And although Rohrbough was not required to file reports concerning alleged substandard care, the court ruled, the reports were still related to her official duties.

"Her assertions that her immediate supervisors did not order her to write the reports and that other nurses did not write similar reports does not change the analysis," Judge Michael Murphy wrote.

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