Is there any legal recourse for experienced RNs who were fired or forced to resign due to management trying to get rid of the nurses earning higher salaries? Twelve nurses in one year, in the same department, all with 10 or more years of experience and pensions were let go. Over the course of the year, all were counseled for minor or made up infractions, and threatened with firing. Replacement staff is all nurses with two years of experience or less
Dear Nancy replies:
It is hard to comment on the situation you describe without more details. Given what you have submitted, however, the actions of management seem harsh, at the very least, and possibly not in conformity with anti-discrimination laws.
As examples, you indicated that the involuntary job transitions involved experienced nurses with pensions. If these nurses were over 40, there may be a violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age alone. When older workers are replaced by younger ones, as you stated, this fact may add to the singular motive of removing old blood and replacing those individuals with younger staff.
Were staff over 40 given severance pay? Although severance pay is not required under the Older Workers’ Benefit Protection Act, if they did receive any severance money, it must be in writing and contain specific language and required content.
The fact these nurses all had pensions is another concern. Were they vested (at the point where the employer contributes to the plan in addition to the employee doing so)? ERISA, a federal law, governs employee pensions. Perhaps they were fired or forced to resign before the vesting time period began to save the employer from having to contribute to those plans.
Another concern is the gender, race, color, creed and/or national origin of those who were involuntary transitioned. Title VII prohibits discrimination of these protected groups solely on those bases. Although gender may not be a concern due to all the nurses fired being female (this is an assumption), it may be that some of the staff members were let go solely due to being a member of one of those groups.
A third issue is the forced resignations. Because they were not voluntary, they may be seen in the law as a constructive discharge, which, means that even though it looks on paper like a resignation, the employee was mandated to resign or be fired.
Since there are many potential red flags surrounding this situation, it would be a good idea for the staff affected, or those who want to do so, to consult with a nurse attorney or other attorney in employment law, who can carefully analyze the entire course of events. There may or may not be any legal recourse, depending on what the attorney determines based on the facts involved, but it would be well worth the time and money to see if you, and the others, might have been illegally treated.