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MyNews LA and other media sources report that a Los Angeles jury has awarded $41.49 million to a former nurse who said Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. retaliated against her for complaining about patient safety and quality of care and fired her in 2019 over a minor policy violation.

The jury reportedly awarded Maria Gatchalian $11.49 million in compensatory damages, including $9 million for the emotional distress, plus $30 million in punitive damages.

Maria had the courage to speak up about patient safety but Kaiser tried to silence her,” plaintiff’s attorney David deRubertis said. “This diligent jury spoke in a loud and clear voice telling Kaiser that it needs to put patients over profits. We hope this verdict will get Kaiser to focus more on patient safety and quality of care and less on the business of medicine.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that David deRubertis has been lead counsel in single-plaintiff employment settlements totaling almost $55 million, with an average settlement of over $2 million for individual employment cases. In the employment class action arena, deRubertis claims he has secured sizeable confidential pre-litigation resolutions in matters such as #MeToo cases and high-level executive whistleblowing cases.

Gatchalian worked for the Woodland Hills Kaiser Permanente Hospital since 1989, first as an NICU registered nurse, then as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit charge nurse following her promotion in 2006.

In their court papers, Kaiser attorneys maintained that the 30-year employee admitted that in 2019 she took off her shoes and socks and placed her bare feet on an isolette, a medical device that holds sick or premature newborn babies. The defense attorneys included a photo of Gatchalian doing so in their court papers.

“Plaintiff’s conduct was unacceptable, made even more so by the fact that she was a charge nurse, a leader of the nursing team and a long-term employee who knew better,” Kaiser lawyers stated.

Having lost confidence in Gatchalian, Kaiser “made the difficult decision to terminate her employment” in 2019, according to the defense lawyers’ court papers.

But according to the suit filed in April 2021, Gatchalian raised repeated concerns to management about quality of care and patient safety, mostly stemming from Kaiser’s alleged understaffing. Multiple witnesses said during trial that the facility was undermanned.

Gatchalian maintained that Kaiser management repeatedly discouraged her from submitting formal complaints through the normal process, which her attorneys maintained was done so Kaiser could avoid conducting an investigation and taking corrective action. The plaintiff’s lawyers further maintained that Kaiser placed the value of profits ahead of patient well-being.

We stand by her termination and are surprised and disappointed in the verdict,” Murtaza Sanwari, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills/West Ventura County, told Becker’s Hospital Review in a statement. “Kaiser Permanente plans to appeal this decision and will maintain our high standards in protecting the health and safety of all our patients.”

We work hard to make Kaiser Permanente a great place to work and a great place to receive care,” Mr. Sanwari said. “The allegations in this lawsuit are at odds with the facts we showed in the courtroom.”

“To be clear, this charge nurse’s job was to be a leader for other nurses, ensure the standards of care were followed and to protect the neonatal babies entrusted to our care. She was terminated in 2019 following an incident where she was found sitting in a recliner in the neonatal intensive care unit, on her personal phone and resting her bare feet on an isolette with a neonatal infant inside. Neonatal intensive care units are critical care units designed for critically ill babies most often born prematurely and very susceptible to infections.