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In the Worst Possible Taste

ROSEVILLE, Calif. (CN) - While he was anesthetized for surgery, a hospital worker claims in court, co-workers put obscene temporary tattoos near his penis, painted his fingernails, made up his face like a woman and posted photos of it all on a hospital bulletin board.

John Ruth sued Sonora Regional Medical Center and its corporate parent, Adventist Health System/West, in Placer County Court. He also sued John Does 1-50.

Ruth, who no longer works for the defendants, seeks punitive damages for constructive termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, civil rights violations, negligent supervision and negligent retention.

The lawsuit begins: "Perhaps the most vulnerable position any human being will ever endure in their life is a time when they are placed under full anesthesia. Unfortunately, this case involves the taking advantage of a patient at Sonora Regional Medical Center ('Sonora Regional') while he was anesthetized to humiliate and embarrass the patient."

Ruth claims that employees or agents of the hospital "took advantage of" him while he was "helpless" and "fully anesthetized."

"Sonora Regional and Adventist Health, and Does 1-50 defaced, defamed, and violated the dignity of this patient by placing obscene images on his body, including up to 50 temporary tattoos (some were placed near his penis), painted his fingernails and put makeup on his face to make him look like a male dressed in drag and/or a female. These acts were designed to humiliate him based on his perceived sexual orientation and based upon his gender," the complaint states.

When he returned from a three-month medical leave after the surgery, Ruth says in the lawsuit, he "was bullied by his co-workers who were either present for his surgery, or who saw photographs of the plaintiff under anesthesia with multiple tattoos over his body, makeup on his face, and his fingernails painted."

"These photographs of the patient were distributed around the hospital and/or posted for his co-workers to see for weeks, if not months without Mr. Ruth's consent. Mr. Ruth eventually found out that these photographs were posted in common areas for his co-workers to see at the hospital," according to the complaint.

Ruth claims photos of his face constitute confidential medical information, the disclosure of which should have been reported to the California Department of Health within five days, which would have prevented further dissemination of the photographs. Because that didn't happen, "plaintiff's psychological injuries grew exponentially worse," he says.

These injuries include "depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and other psychiatric disorders which are still developing," according to the complaint.

After the tasteless practical joke, his co-workers "continuously made grossly inappropriate comments to plaintiff for what they did to him during his surgery, and made fun of him for their perceived perception that he was gay and/or liked to dress in drag, up until the time he was forced to quit his employment in August 2012," Ruth says in the complaint.

Ruth seeks general, special, treble, exemplary and punitive damages, costs and a jury trial.

He is represented by Andrew T. Ryan of Century City.

A spokeswoman for Adventist Health System said the company could not comment because the lawsuit is pending.

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