PARKERSBURG - A former nurse at a Wood County hospital alleges she was wrongfully terminated following unsubstantiated allegations she took medical leave to moonlight for another hospital.

Jeanne E. Slawter filed suit against Signature Hospital LLC in Wood Circuit Court on Aug. 19. Based in Houston, Texas, Signature is the parent company of St. Joseph's Hospital System, which operates St. Joseph's Hospital in Parkersburg.

In her complaint, Slawter, 61, alleges staff at St. Joseph's concocted allegations she worked at a Kentucky hospital as a pretext to fire her as a means of not allowing her to return to work following surgery last year.

According to court records, Slawter, an Ohio resident, began working for St. Joseph's on July 6, 2004. Almost four years later, she requested a medical leave of absence for a hip replacement.

Her request was granted on June 25, 2008, records show.

Though records do not specify when, Slawter requested additional time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This request, however, was denied despite the fact she "worked the required number of hours in the previous twelve months."

On Jan. 13, Slawter presented a medical release signed by Dr. Joel Sorger to Michelle Gillespie, St. Joseph's assistant human resources director, clearing Slawter's immediate return to work. The release was conditional on Slawter working no longer that eight hours a day, and serving as the triage nurse.

However, records show June Kuhn, manager of St. Joseph's emergency department, declined to accept Slawter's restriction on working exclusively as the triage nurse. Nine days later, Sorger, modified his release of Slawter, dropping the triage nurse-only restriction, but still limiting her to an eight-hour shift for the next three months.

Though the release allowed Slawter to return to work immediately, she would have to wait until she completed emergency room testing. In her suit, Slawter maintains starting on Jan. 22, she did "online Careline competency testing in preparation for [her] anticipated return to her part-time emergency department position in February, 2009."

On Feb. 20, Slawter maintains she received a call requesting she come to the hospital to attend emergency room testing. However, upon her arrival, Slawter alleges she was confronted by Gillespie and Kuhn who informed her she was being fired "because she had worked for King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Kentucky, while on medical leave."

In the course of the confrontation, Slawter told Gillespie and Kuhn that she had been to King's Daughters while on medical leave. However, it was to only to attend an orientation, and she clearly informed them that, while she was recovering from surgery, she could not accept any offer for employment.

Records show when Slawter offered to go home and return with documentation showing she had done nothing more than attend an orientation, Gillespie replied " 'We already have the documentation that you were working there.'" Also, when Slawter offered to provide names and telephone numbers at King's Daughters who could verify she had performed no work there, Gillespie would have none of it saying " 'We have all the proof we need.'"

In her suit, Slawter alleges her termination for supposedly working for King's Daughters while on medical leave was merely a smokescreen. In light of evidence she has to the contrary, Slawter maintains Gillespie, who is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, and St. Joseph's, were motivated to get rid of her based on their "perception [she] was handicapped" or had a handicap that "significantly limit[ed] one or more of her major life activities."

In addition to court costs and attorney fees, Slawter seeks unspecified damages to include lost wages, and reinstatement. She is represented by Walt Auvil with the Parkersburg law firm of Rusen and Auvil.

The case is assigned to Judge Robert A. Waters.

Wood Circuit Court, case number 09-C-413

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