Former Pa. hospital nurse sues for job discrimination

By Jon Campisi | Nov 25, 2011

A woman who worked as a registered nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital for nearly two decades before she was terminated last year has filed a federal job discrimination lawsuit against the trustees in charge of the Philadelphia healthcare facility.

Philadelphia resident Pamela A. Lazorko alleges in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully discharged from her job on Dec. 21, 2010.

The termination came nearly three years after Lazorko filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because of the hospital’s alleged failure to promote her to a managerial position, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 22 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorney Frank Finch, III.

The lawsuit, which names as defendants the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, trading as Pennsylvania Hospital, states that Lazorko worked as a staff nurse in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit for most of her approximately 19-year career.

After the EEOC claim was filed, it was determined, through mediation, that Lazorko would be offered the nurse manager position, the suit claims.

Lazorko commenced her new position in September 2008, the suit states. On April 15, 2009, however, she informed her superior that she did not want to continue on as manager, and desired to return to a staff nurse position. She was able to return to her prior position in May of that year.

After returning to a staff nurse position, Lazorko and other black employees began to experience incidents of racial discrimination, the lawsuit claims.

Lazorko soon filed another discrimination charge with the EEOC against the hospital, but that charge was denied on the grounds of “charge not established,” the suit claims.

When back at her prior position, Lazorko claims new rules had been put in effect, such as the requirement that staff nurses retake a competency examination, something Lazorko claims was a rule created specifically for her, and motivated by “management’s intent to find a reason to discharge her from employment,” the complaint alleges.

Soon, other problems surfaced. In late December 2009, the suit states, a manager issued Lazorko a written warning for violating the biohazard disposal policy. The suit claims that the manager discovered a bloody needle in a bed of a patient under Lazorko’s care.

Lazorko took responsibility and apologized for the mistake, the suit claims.

A second disciplinary warning was issued to Lazorko in June 2010, the suit states, this time for excessive absences.

Another written warning was soon given to Lazorko for allegedly talking on her cell phone and ignoring a patient, but Lazorko claims that her cell phone conversation took place when she was on break, the suit claims.

The lawsuit claims that hospital management had “already targeted Plaintiff for discharge from employment,” and that the warnings served as excuses to get rid of her.

Then, in November 2010, a patient suffered an overdose of the pain drug Fentanyl, the suit claims. It was determined that Lazorko was the nurse in charge at the time, and she was placed on administrative leave following the incident.

The hospital, however, soon determined through an investigation that Lazorko was telling the truth when she denied giving the patient an overdose of Fentanyl, and that the patient’s cessation of breathing was due to a doctor’s error, not that of Lazorko, the suit claims.

No other disciplinary action was taken against Lazorko regarding the Fentanyl incident, the suit claims.

Nevertheless, Lazorko was told in late December 2010 that she would be fired from her job, the suit claims.

“We are terminating your employment based on the grossly inappropriate conduct displayed by you toward your nurse manager … during the course of her investigation of the Fentanyl incident …,” the termination letter read, according to the lawsuit.

Lazorko allegedly had questioned her supervisors’ actions regarding her suspension over the incident, and the lawsuit claims that Lazorko’s termination was, in part, retaliation for such questioning.

The suit claims that Lazorko suffered mental and emotional injuries as a result of having had to endure a “racially hostile” work environment.

Lazorko claims she suffered lost earnings, damage to her professional reputation, injury to her employability and other injuries as a result of her treatment, and subsequent firing.

Lazorko seeks job reinstatement, injunctive relief preventing the hospital from engaging in discriminatory practices, back pay, unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and other court relief.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07294-LDD.

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