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Former nurse awarded $41M in retaliation suit

Maria Gatchalian, a former charge nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit, has been awarded $41.49 million in her wrongful termination and retaliation lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente.

Gatchalian had worked in the NICU at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center in Los Angeles since she was hired in 1989 and had been the NICU charge nurse since 2006. She was terminated in 2019.

According to Gatchalian, she had raised concerns about patient safety, care quality, and understaffing issues to Kaiser management, but had been discouraged from filing a formal complaint. She also alleged that her supervisor and other colleagues made repeated comments about her age.

Gatchalian had reportedly raised concerns about nurses who didn’t know how to catheter a critical care baby, a nurse who failed to feed a baby, and a staff member who violated HIPAA protocols.

In one specific incident, Gatchalian learned a patient’s father had a knife with him in the NICU. She alleged her supervisor was aware but did not alert the staff. Gatchalian raised the issue to the NICU director and the hospital union president, after which, she says, her supervisor began to “routinely harass, micro-manage, retaliate, and intimidate her.”

Kaiser, meanwhile, argued that Gatchalian was terminated for violating infection control policies and standards. She was allegedly seen sitting in a recliner with her bare feet propped on an isolette, a protective environment that held a newborn. The healthcare provider maintained that her actions were egregious and potentially life-threatening to the infant.

Gatchalian was 63 years old when she filed her lawsuit in 2021. She sued for age discrimination, disability discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability, wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as other discrimination and harassment claims.

A jury awarded Gatchalian $11.49 million in compensatory damages, including $9 million for emotional distress, and an additional $30 million in punitive damages.

Kaiser Permanente has indicated that it plans to appeal the decision.