Fired nurse’s retaliation claim reinstated

A nurse fired from a St. Joseph County clinic that treated patients with sexually transmitted diseases may go forward with a lawsuit claiming her termination was in retaliation for expressing concern that treating undiagnosed patients went beyond her scope of practice.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the St. Joseph County Health Department and remanded Beverly S. Stillson’s complaint to Elkhart Superior Judge Evan S. Roberts.

The record shows Stillson inquired multiple times about department policies and procedures in treating patients who claimed they had been exposed to STDs by their partners. The trial court granted summary judgment after the county said Stillson’s firing followed a series of disciplinary problems.

But the appeals panel found that part of the disciplinary record included Stillson’s refusal to administer a shot of penicillin to a patient who had not been diagnosed, based on a nursing director’s assumption that the patient had primary rather than latent syphilis.

“The facts are sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether (the health department’s) true motive for terminating Stillson’s employment was her refusal to treat patients without diagnoses being made or to otherwise exceed the scope of her nursing license,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel in Beverly S. Stillson v. St. Joseph County Health Department, 20A03-1406-CT-191.

“(T)he question of retaliatory motive is a question properly for the trier of fact.”

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