CHARLESTON - A former employee is suing Genesis Healthcare LLC for allegedly wrongfully terminating her employment in retaliation for her attempting to protect whistle-blowing activities of another employee.
Genesis Healthcare Corporation, Kimberly Gray, Matthew Keefer and Tammy Bentley were also named as defendants in the suit.
Laura Lynell Stone was employed by the defendants from Dec. 6, 2002, until April 22, 2011, according to a complaint filed April 17 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Stone claims on April 21, 2010, a housekeeping employee, Jeffrey Scott Blankenship, for purposes of obtaining evidence, recorded a video using his cell phone of two Certified Nursing Assistants committing patient abuse and he reported the incident to Stone, who was his supervisor.
At Stone's direction, the incident was reported to Bentley, who was the director of nursing, in an effort to prevent such patient abuse from happening again in the future and to have the two CNAs investigated and appropriately disciplined, according to the suit.
Stone claims Gray, the assistant director of nursing, demanded to see the video and then immediately insisted Blankenship delete the video from his phone, which he refused to do until he had submitted a report concerning the meeting with Gray and after he consulted with a union representative.
Instead of Blankenship being commended for his actions to prevent patient abuse, Gray and Bentley informed Stone that it was their desire to terminate his employment and when Stone refused to participate in firing him under the grounds that his actions were protected whistle-blowing activity, Gray and Bentley expressed their displeasure with her for her refusal, according to the suit.
Stone claims on June 28, 2010, Blankenship was terminated on the pretext of missing work and, around the same time, she joined in a complaint asserted by Sheila Cain, a CNA union representative, against Gray for permitting her young daughter to handle patient files, medical records, medication boxes and similar material and to use the facility's computers in violation of patient medical-records confidentiality laws.
Cain and Stone also sought to prevent Gray from permitting her daughter to engage in other improper and dangerous activities, including roller skating in the hallways, which presented a risk of bodily injury to the residents; and handing ice and other food items to the residents, which presented an infection control risk, according to the suit.
Stone claims as a result of her involvement with Cain, Gray set out on a plan to find or create a pretext for having her employment terminated and Keefer and Bentley, as well as other employees, participated, combined and/or conspired with her to achieve this purpose.
On Jan. 13, 2011, a housekeeping employee, Rhonda Miracle, had been collecting trash in a 55-gallon trash can, which she subsequently placed in the soiled utility room and, upon returning to get the trash can and dispose of the trash, Miracle found the trash she had collected lying on the floor and the trash can missing, according to the suit.
Stone claims Miracle went to find the trash can and discovered Gray throwing pitchers, which were used to provide patients with water and ice, into the trash can, and when Miracle informed Gray she needed the trash can back, Gray ignored her and Miracle came to Stone for assistance.
When Stone accompanied Miracle to get the trash can from Gray, Stone informed Gray that her actions were improper and constituted a contamination and infection control risk, according to the suit, and Gray then asked Stone to finish their conversation in Gray's office.
Stone claims upon entering Gray's officer, Gray grabbed her shoulder and began making insinuating threats against her.
As a result of the incident, Stone and Gray were both suspended without pay for one day for unprofessional conduct, according to the suit.
On April 12, 2011, Carrol Dunn, another housekeeping employee under Stone's supervision, informed Stone she had overheard two CNAs complaining about housekeeping staff watching television in the lounge area during their break, claiming they were lazy and never doing any work, according to the suit.
Stone claims she advised Dunn not to worry about the situation and return to work and shortly thereafter, she was approached by Betty Riffe, one of the CNAs, who told Stone Stacy Smith, the other CNA was the one complaining.
Smith later approached Stone regarding the matter and Stone informed Smith that it was her understanding that employees were on break and were permitted to watch television in the lounge area when on breaks, but if Smith "ever had any complaints about her staff to please inform her so that she could investigate the matter and take any necessary actions to address the matter," according to the suit.
Stone claims Smith stated she was just having a bad day and was tired of always working short-staffed on her hall and promised to informed Stone if she ever had any complaints about housekeeping staff.
The two women then hugged and departed one another, according to the suit, and no harsh words, profanity or threats were used by either of the two during the conversation.
Stone claims following the incident, neither she nor Smith made any complaint to management concerning the matter, but on April 18, 2011, Gray returned to work from vacation and informed Smith she had learned about the incident and demanded she and others prepare statements concerning the encounter.
On April 19, 2011, Stone was informed by Keefer that she was being suspended pending an investigation of the incident and on April 22, 2011, she was informed her employment was terminated for unprofessional conduct, according to the suit.
Stone claims the defendants termination constituted retaliatory discharge and caused her loss of income and benefits.
The defendants' actions were outrageous and also caused Stone to suffer severe emotional distress and related physical symptoms and conditions, according to the suit.
Stone is seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. She is being represented by Richard A. Monahan of the Masters Law Firm.
The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod J. Kaufman.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 13-C-740