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Lawsuit: hospital workers fired for reporting sanitation issues

Two housekeeping workers have filed a lawsuit against a Kaiser hospital in California and its contract cleaning service, claiming they were fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on unsanitary conditions that affected both workers and patients. The women were targeted not only as whistleblowers, they say, but also because they had filed workers’ compensation claims. Employer retaliation for either of those reasons by federal law and by the laws of both California and Minnesota.

According to the lawsuit, the problems began when the hospital contracted with a new cleaning service. That service replaced their cleaning carts with large, unwieldy versions that ended up injuring the two plaintiffs. The service also failed to follow proper sanitization standards in hospital rooms, exposed unprotected workers to biohazards, they say.

Each of the women had been working at the hospital for at least a decade when the new cleaning service was brought in. When their cleaning cards were replaced, each suffered injuries and filed workers’ comp claims. That apparently angered their hospital supervisors sufficiently that they refused to listen to their subsequent complaints about the biohazards and other sanitation issues.

When a sewage flood occurred in the hospital basement, the woman say they were ordered to clean up the mess, which was a biohazard, by standing in the raw sewage without any protective clothing or equipment. The appropriate equipment hadn’t been maintained and was unusual. When they refused, a hazardous material company was brought in.

When one of the plaintiffs brought up the issue at a team meeting, she says, she was put suspended on a pretext and ultimately fired. Then, the team meetings were discontinued, leaving workers no forum for complaints.

The other plaintiff made a series of complaints about improper sanitization in patient rooms. In one case, she was told to clean blood and bodily fluids that had been spattered on a wall without the germicidal chemicals necessary to prevent the spread of disease. Instead, the cleaning company apparently ordered her merely to vacuum the walls.

She was then subjected to a retaliation campaign, she says, in which supervisors intentionally spread jelly in hidden areas to give themselves a pretext to fire her.

Unfortunately, far too many employers see whistleblowers as troublemakers demanding costly changes, instead of courageous people trying to do the right thing. A lawsuit is sometimes the only way to change the business calculus.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Kaiser Employees: Fired for Whistleblowing,” Philip A. Janquart, Oct. 4, 2013

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