Can an RN Prove Whistleblowing is What Caused Her Termination?

Whistleblowing by an employee has been the subject of many court cases over the years. Whistleblowing is defined as a “disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a governmental agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing.”

In the following case (Guminski v. Massac County Hospital District), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois evaluated whether an RN employee’s reporting of a nurse supervisor’s conduct constituted whistleblowing.

The RN worked at the hospital from August 2009 until January 2014. One day, according to the RN’s testimony, she observed her supervisor mistreat a new employee and falsify patient charts by “intentionally documenting ‘made up’ vital signs after the patients had been discharged.”

The RN asked her supervisor if she needed help on several occasions. The supervisor refused any help and added that “she knew what she was doing.”

The RN reported both of her observations to the Director of Nursing in early 2013.

After her oral and written report to the Director of Nursing, the RN was, “harassed and retaliated against” at work. In January of 2014, she was terminated.

RN Files Lawsuit

The nurse’s lawsuit alleged two causes of action. The first was that her termination was in retaliation for reporting the conduct of the supervisor to the Director of Nursing.

Her second allegation was that she was terminated in violation of the state whistleblower act.

The hospital filed a Motion to Dismiss the RN’s complaint.

The court discussed the applicable law for each cause of the RN’s complaint.

When alleging a retaliatory discharge claim, three elements of such a claim are:

  • A plaintiff must establish a termination.
  • The termination was in retaliation of the plaintiff’s activities.
  • The plaintiff must establish that the termination violates a clear mandate of public policy.

The Court’s Decision

The court cited several state cases supporting a retaliatory discharge claim when an employee notifies a supervisor within his or her own company of misconduct and is then terminated.

The court also reviewed other state case law that held that “public policy, as well as state law, favors an approach that would allow dutiful employees who report wrongdoing to their employers to bring retaliatory discharge claims.”

The hospital argued the RN failed to make a causal connection between her termination and the alleged wrongful conduct.

The court opined the RN is only required to describe a claim in enough detail to provide the hospital with “fair notice” of what the claim is, the grounds on which it rests, and reasonably suggests she has a right to relief “above the speculative level.”

The court held the RN had done so and was not ruling on the merits of her claim, but only that she had plead enough in her complaint to withstand the hospital’s Motion to Dismiss.

As to the RN’s alleged violation of her rights under the state whistleblower act, the court emphasized that under the act, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in any activity that would violate a state …read more

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