Nurse Wins $41M Lawsuit Against Kaiser for Retaliation and Wrongful Termination
Maria Gatchalian, a former neonatal intensive care unit nurse, was awarded $41.49 million in damages by a jury for her lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente claiming wrongful termination. Maria was an employee of Kaiser for 30 years, since 1989. According to court documents, Gatchalian was fired in retaliation for reporting unsafe staffing levels and poor patient care in the NICU at Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center.
“Maria had the courage to speak up about patient safety but Kaiser tried to silence her. This diligent jury spoke in a loud and clear voice telling Kaiser that it needs to put patients over profits. We hope this verdict will get Kaiser to focus more on patient safety and quality of care and less on the business of medicine,” said attorney David deRubertis said.
Maria Gatchalian received a total of $11.49 million in compensatory damages, which includes $9 million allocated for emotional distress, along with an additional $30 million awarded as punitive damages.
Unsafe Conditions Reported Repeatedly
Gatchalian claimed she reported issues with understaffing and patient safety concerns on multiple occasions to her managers and through the hospital's incident reporting system. However, no action was taken to remedy the situation. Fearing for the safety of her patients, she continued to report the problems up the chain of command but was met with retaliation and hostility instead of support.
Wrongful Termination and Retaliation
Gatchalian filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming she was fired in retaliation for reporting patient safety issues, which is illegal under California law. After hearing testimony from both sides, the jury unanimously agreed with Gatchalian.
Kaiser Permanente Statements
Kaiser contended that Gatchalian purportedly placed her bare feet on a medical device intended for sick or premature newborns. The defense asserted that such behavior was deemed unacceptable. Kaiser asserted a loss of confidence in her and ultimately decided to terminate her employment.
"We stand by her termination and are surprised and disappointed in the verdict," Murtaza Sanwari, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills/West Ventura County, told Becker's Hospital Review in a statement. "Kaiser Permanente plans to appeal this decision and will maintain our high standards in protecting the health and safety of all our patients."
“The allegations in this lawsuit are at odds with the facts we showed in the courtroom. We stand by her termination and are surprised and disappointed in the verdict,” Sanwari told MyLANews.com. “Kaiser Permanente plans to appeal this decision and will maintain our high standards in protecting the health and safety of all our patients.”