State supreme court revives nursing home whistleblower retaliation case

A former nursing home employee who claims she was fired for raising staffing and safety concerns will have her case heard by a jury, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Tuesday.

Karen Cormier worked as a certified nursing assistant at Pine Point Center, a Genesis HealthCare-owned skilled nursing facility in Scarborough, ME, for 10 years before she was fired in January 2012.

In her lawsuit against Genesis, Cormier claims she was fired for raising concerns to the director of nursing about reductions to the number of CNAs on duty. Genesis did not return a request for comment by press time.

Pine Point's staffing routine reduced the number of CNAs from four or five per shift, to three or four. That change put added stress on CNAs, and lengthened the time it took for a CNA to attend to residents who had pushed their call button, Cormier said.

In December 2011, Cormier was suspended by Pine Point's directory of nursing for allegedly hitting a resident on the hand, which she said occurred when she tried to subdue a combative resident. A statement Cormier signed about the incident stated that the hit had occurred on a day Cormier wasn't working, according to the lawsuit. Cormier was fired later that week, which she says was retaliation for raising concern about the CNA reduction.

In an earlier trial, the Cumberland County Superior Court ruled in favor of Genesis, stating there wasn't enough of a demonstrated relationship between Cormier's complaints about staffing and her firing after the hitting incident.

In this week's ruling, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court said the evidence was sufficient enough to allow a jury to find whether Cormier's complaints would be protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, and if her firing was directly motivated by “retaliatory intent.”

Cormier's case marks the fifth complaint of retaliation against a whistleblower at Pine Point; a sixth in pending with the Maine Human Rights Commission, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Genesis also faces a lawsuit from a former licensed practical nurse at one of its New Jersey facilities, who alleges she was fired and received a note reading “snitches get stitches” after voicing concerns about photos showing a hospice resident tied to a wheelchair.