I was publicly humiliated and shoved by my boss while being fired. What are my legal options?

By | 2022-02-11T11:16:42-05:00 January 4th, 2010|0 Comments

Question:

Dear Nancy,

I was hired for an intake position in which I was to work four 10-hour shifts a week. I was on the premises for 30 days and worked five days a week. When I asked when my schedule would shift to 10-hour days, my supervisors would become mean or give me a different answer each time I asked.

No one ever gave me feedback on my work, and when I finally asked a team leader for feedback, she told me that I spelled a word wrong. A day after asking about the hours, my boss and an HR representative came into the office, asked me to stand up and told me that I was fired. I was terminated in front of several other employees. I was publicly humiliated. When I cleaned out my desk, my ex-boss and the HR representative were grabbing things and destroying my papers and trying to say they were theirs.

When I left, I went to the HR department to speak to the HR person’s supervisor because I did not understand why I was fired. I asked a woman in the office next to the HR department if the supervisor was in. While she was answering me, my ex-boss and the HR person appeared and started shoving me. Is this assault? I never have been so humiliated in my life. The nursing school that I attended is one of the top 10 schools in the country, and I worked in its hospital, which always has been among the best in the country. I have my master’s degree, and I was working in an intake position. I’m far from stupid and cannot believe the lies that were made up to fire me. What can I do? I’m devastated. I’ve been a nurse for 29 years and always have received good annual reviews. I’m so depressed that all I do is cry or sleep.

Mildred

Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Mildred,

The circumstances surrounding your termination sound absurd at best. Clearly, the behavior exhibited by your ex-boss and the HR person as you described was not appropriate (e.g., pushing, public humiliation). It is not clear why they behaved in this way, but it would be well worth your time and money to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works with employees to evaluate the potential for an assault and battery charge (assault occurs when a person is placed in apprehension of a battery and a battery when there is an actual, unpermitted touching), privacy invasion (firing you in front of others), slander (if anything said in the presence of others was untrue) and/or other allegations against those who were involved in the termination process.

Although no employer is required to keep an employee if there is no position available for the employee, if the lack of a position was used as a pretext for an underlying discriminatory or other unlawful reason, the attorney can advise you of those options. Moreover, your probable “at-will” employment status might have been altered to provide you with an employment status that required more reasons for the initial decision to terminate you (not spelling a word correctly) and thus more protections for you in this entire process.

For example, in Fennessey v. Mt. Carmel Health Systems, Inc. (Ohio Court of Appeals 2009), an RN with a long history of employment at Mt. Carmel Health Systems was terminated from her employment (after returning from an administrative and medical leave) because of her use of physical restraints on an out-of-control patient and pouring water over the patient’s face, all in violation of hospital policy. The RN also was reported to the state board of nursing, and her license was suspended indefinitely. Fennessey appealed the termination through the employer’s appeals process. Fennessey was unable to successfully appeal her termination for various reasons, so she filed a suit in the state court. Mt. Carmel asked for and received a summary judgment in its favor, and Fennessey appealed the decision.

The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment decision, opining that the trial court erred in granting the motion for summary judgment. The basis of its opinion was that the employer’s employee handbook required the employer to meet several prerequisites and fulfill several steps in the termination process for an at-will employee before termination could occur. In this case, the court continued, the employer did not provide Fennessey with the rights she was granted by her employer (50(6) Nursing Law’s Regan Report, November 2009).

Be sure to take the employee handbook with you to the consultation with your attorney. It could be helpful if your status as an at-will employee was altered by the facility’s policies and procedures governing termination from employment. Obviously, this possible allegation would be in addition to the possible allegations dealing with the conduct of the individuals involved in this situation.

Sincerely,
Nancy

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