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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fired Kaiser Worker Can Pursue Retaliation Case

(CN) - A woman can advance claims that Kaiser Hospital fired her after she complained about an alleged drug-using boss, a federal judge ruled.

As reported by Courthouse News, Kristinna Grotz had nearly 10 years on the job with Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Permanente Group when she allegedly saw a manager using what appeared to be methamphetamine.

Grotz says she saw admitting department manager Debbie Taylor with a rolled-up bill in her nose, "snorting a white powdery substance," on the job.

Kaiser launched what Grotz claimed was a bogus investigation against Taylor, and in late 2010, Taylor allegedly retaliated against Grotz by falsely accusing her of time card fraud.

Representatives with Grotz's union, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, then told Grotz to sign a "last chance" agreement with false information about the time card allegations, according to the complaint.

Grotz says she was fired on July 7, 2011, after she refused. She sued Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, the Permanente Medical Group and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West almost exactly one year later under the Labor Management Relations Act.

Kaiser and the union had tried to argue that the claims for wrongful termination and breach of duty of fair representation were time-barred, or that Grotz had failed to state a claim.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco disagreed, finding that Grotz had filed her claim within the statute of limitations.

"As Ms. Grotz, the plaintiff in the case at bar, filed her suit within six months of the date she was notified that the union was abandoning her grievance, her claim was timely as to all alleged breaches that relate to her grievance," the 17-page order states. "The grievance appealed her termination, which she alleges was retaliatory and based on false accusations of timecard fraud. ... Accordingly, any alleged breach related to the UHW's [United Healthcare Workers] representation of plaintiff with regards to the allegations of timecard fraud is related to her grievance and thus timely."

Grotz's fair representation claim alleges that the union failed to examine the time card records for tampering, never raised the possibility that retaliation could be in play, and pushed the inaccurate "last chance" agreement.

"Plaintiff has alleged for purposes of this motion to dismiss sufficient facts to make a claim that the UHW's investigation of her grievance was merely perfunctory, indeed virtually nonexistent, and that its action evinced a 'reckless disregard' of plaintiff's rights," Chen wrote.

Kaiser faired better in its challenge to Grotz's emotional distress claims.

In addition to dismissing Grotz's negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, the judge also striking parts of the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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