Last year, one of the largest individual employment law verdicts was granted to a surgical physician’s assistant who was wrongfully terminated from her position at a large hospital in Sacramento. The multi-million dollar case awarded the former employee over $3.5 million in past and future lost wages, nearly $40,000 for pain and suffering and $125 million for punitive damages, which are awarded in an attempt to punish a defendant and deter others from committing similar wrongful acts.
During a period of two years while working in a cardiac surgical unit, the physician’s assistant, a woman, filed more than 15 written complaints with the human resources department where she worked outlining instances of labor law violations and safety infractions that jeopardized patient safety. Verbal complaints conveyed to her supervisor were laughed at or ignored.
During her trial, evidence was presented showing she was subject to physical and verbal sexual harassment, including such actions as:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Inappropriate physical contact
- Demeaning sexual comments
Seven days after submitting another complaint in 2008, she was fired from her job. Eight months later, after testifying in a deposition for her wrongful termination case, her former employer took steps to have her terminated from a newly acquired job. She subsequently added claims of whistleblower retaliation against the former employer.
Retaliation against a whistleblower in California
In California, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee who blows the whistle on wrongful behavior in the workplace. Under section 1102.5 of the California Code, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for actions taken by the employee such as:
- Disclosing a violation of law to a government or law enforcement office information
- Reporting a violation of law to his or her employer
- Refusing to participate in activity that would violate a law
A complaint submitted to an employer regarding sexual harassment or a hostile work environment is considered a “report” for the purposes of this law.
The employee in this case reported instances of compromised patient safety as well as employment law violations — she and others were denied mandatory meal breaks — which were ignored or inadequately addressed by her employer. Often such violations are not so blatant, but that does not make them any less serious or illegal.
If you have suffered sexual harassment or retaliation at your place of employment, consult with an experienced whistleblower retaliation lawyer. You may be entitled to lost wages and damages for emotional distress. You may also be helping others who suffer from similar workplace violations by bringing such violations to light.