Coronavirus and the Law: Nurses Fired for Speaking Out over Deficient Facemasks file Retaliation Claims
A few weeks ago, we covered the legal impact of the Coronavirus pandemic by discussing the lawsuits filed over the Grand Princess cruise ship outbreak. Today, we continue to analyze how Coronavirus is making its way into the courtroom – this time in the form of retaliation claims by nurses. This legal issue first arose in the United States when a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago was fired, allegedly in retaliation for telling her co-workers that a certain type of facemask was safer than the facemasks provided by Northwestern. Our blog today summarizes this situation at Northwestern and details a group of similar claims which have come to light within the last few weeks.
Northwestern Memorial Nurse files Lawsuit alleging Retaliatory Discharge
On March 19, 2020, Northwestern Memorial Hospital fired nurse Lauren Mazurkiewicz. Specifically, Mazurkiewicz wore an N95 facemask which, according to her lawsuit, “[is] more effective at preventing the wearer from contracting COVID-19 than other facemasks, including those masks provided by [Northwestern].” Just one day earlier, Mazurkiewicz had sent her co-workers and supervisors an emailing stating that, because of its effectiveness, she would continue wearing an N95 facemask rather than the type provided by Northwestern. The next day, citing with its mandate to wear only facemasks provided by the hospital, Northwestern fired Mazurkiewicz.
Mazurkiewicz subsequently filed suit in Cook County state court alleging that Northwestern unlawfully fired her in retaliation for warning her co-workers of the dangers posed by the hospital’s inadequate facemasks. Mazurkiewicz’s complaint stated that she was in direct contact with confirmed coronavirus patients, and thus ignored Northwestern’s mandate and continued to wear her N95 facemask. Interestingly, Mazurkiewicz’s lawsuit not only sued Northwestern, but also her direct supervisor, the president of the hospital, and any “unknown employees” who played in role in her termination.
Retaliation over Speaking Out turning into a Pattern?
Mazurkiewicz’s lawsuit quickly gained popularity not only through local news outlets, but also on the national stage. Shortly thereafter, another Chicago nurse was fired under nearly identical circumstances. This time, nurse Regina Haglund at Mercy Hospital in Chicago purchased a facemask online to avoid spreading Coronavirus from her hospital into her home and community. Haglund contended that Mercy Hospital only provided nurses with paper facemasks, which they then had to reuse despite their lack of effectiveness.
After Haglund wore the facemask she purchased online over her paper facemask, Mercy Hospital sent her home and subsequently fired her. According to Haglund’s discrimination charge she filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Mercy Hospital terminated her in retaliation for informing her manager of the defective paper facemask and using a safer facemask she obtained online. Haglund’s charge further stated that she “discovered more masks locked away in a manager’s office that were not being made available.”
Just days ago, Bloomberg Law published an investigative report regarding this pattern of alleged retaliation against healthcare workers. Bloomberg’s report cites similar situations arising in both Washington state and New York. The article also recounts that, at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in China, Chinese healthcare providers were subject to similarly harsh reactions from hospitals.
Though Mazurkiewicz quickly filed her lawsuit, the case’s progression will likely be slowed down by delays at in the Cook Country courts and the State of Illinois’ extended shutdown. Be sure to stay tuned to Coffman Law’s blog, as we will continue to keep track of the latest updates on how Coronavirus is impacting the law.
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