Nursing home asked for employee's personal information too often, jury rules

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The human resources department of a Maine nursing home did not properly protect a former employee's personal identification information, a jury recently ruled.

Plaintiff Donna Lee Williams was hired as a housekeeper at the Island Nursing Home and Care Center in Deer Isle in April 2011. The human resources director asked her to re-submit an employment application because the first had been lost, and then asked her to fill it out a third time, Williams alleged in her civil suit.

The application materials included her Social Security number and a photocopy of her driver's license, and Williams claimed that the facility's negligence exposed her to potential identity theft, local newspaper Island Ad-Vantages reported. She says she was fired after complaining about the matter. A Business and Consumer Court jury returned a verdict in Williams' favor after deliberating for less than hour on Oct. 16.

Williams had ended a previous period of employment with Island in 2009, her attorney, A.J. Greif of Gilbert & Greif, told McKnights. She had “outstanding” reviews, he noted. The issue not only is that the nursing home mishandled her applications, but that it terminated her employment so abruptly and did not apply best practices in addressing her concerns.

“You just never fire someone suddenly, and don't let HR investigate itself,” Greif advised.

Reached by phone late Thursday, a worker at the 38-bed Island Nursing Home said Administrator Marc Plourde was not immediately available to comment. The facility's attorney, Robyn March of Lambert Coffin, had not responded to a voicemail from McKnight's as of press time. But the nursing home contends that Williams was being asked to fill out three separate types of documentation and says that it did not lose any of her application materials.

“The Island Nursing Home prides itself on maintaining exemplary employment practices, most particularly, the manner in which we maintain both the confidentiality and integrity of personnel files,” Administrator Marc Plourde said in a statement quoted by Island Ad-Vantages. “While we respect the efforts of the jury, we strongly disagree with its conclusion.”

The jury did not award any damages for the emotional strain of being fired, but a separate hearing will determine whether Williams will receive compensation such as back pay and $40,000 in attorney's fees