August 12th, 2012

Hospital unlawfully fired nurse who complained of bullying


In December 2009 CEO Ryan Smith of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna Alaska brought us in to implement our comprehensive program to prevent and correct workplace bullying. One year prior, there had been an on-site gunslinging event that claimed two lives, the shooter, fired employee Joseph Marchetti, and one of his victims. Others were paralyzed and wounded.

Trouble had been brewing beforehand. There is nearly always a story behind the headline-grabbing “shooter as mental nut” cover story (the theme of the documentary Murder By Proxy). A VP of the nurses union, Ray Southwell, had briefed his fellow union members and the CPH Board that “the environment is ripe for another shooting.” He spoke regularly of bullying of nurses. Smith hated Southwell. Eventually, Smith, who had been brought in to “clean up” certain departments fired Southwell.

The Board told Smith to “do something, anything.” So, he turned to the national experts on workplace bullying (using Southwell’s characterization of part of the problem). We trained a wonderful team of volunteers to act as internal experts (the signature piece of our consulting work) and facilitated a policy writing group that included Smith and the state nurses union president. We also surveyed all employees to determine prevelance of bullying. With much fanfare and local press, we launched the initiative at a public Board meeting. We returned home.

Ryan Smith immediately disbanded the team and had the Board suspend implementation of the policy. Days of expensive staff time were flushed down the toilet. The autocratic imposter Smith had staged a flurry of activity, raised employees’ hopes that their work environment would change, then dashed them on the rocks exercising his unilateral control.

That was December 2009. Southwell, who I was warned by Smith was a troublemaking dissident, was fired in October 2010. He had continued his lambasting Ryan’s horrific management style and the Board that fecklessly backed Ryan at meetings and in the local press. All of his activities infuriated Smith and his executive team. Smith based the termination of internal Rules that, unfortunately for CPH, restricted employee speech that the NLRB considers protected activity.

The NLRB was contacted first on Nov., 2010 about alleged unfair labor practices. There was a hearing in Alaska May 15-17, 2012. Sometime prior to the hearing, Ryan Smith left CPH. The Administrative Law Judge’s ruling was issued on August 2. Here is the complete copy of his decision.

Note: Southwell’s perseverance is incredible. He kept pointing out the facts that toxic work environments lead to disastrous effects for the corporation, eroding funds from a community-funded hospital. Even more critical was his nagging about the effects on people working under tyrannical chaotic managers. Research supports his every contention. He was demonized by Smith and the Board, but also marginalized by many coworkers made uncomfortable by his tenacity. It’s never easy to pursue cases, in court or through administrative channels like the NLRB, because they drag over years. Listen/watch for free our WBI Webinar #2 So, You Wanna Sue? to learn about predictable hurdles.

The Decision

Remarkably, no matter how much Ray Southwell pissed off Ryan Smith, hospital managers and the Board, he was allowed to do so, according to the NLRB. Southwell’s opinions were considered legal “concerted protected activity.” Workers are allowed to bitch about work conditions to each other, even using newspaper editorials.

CPH Board president Lore Weimer disagreed with the decision because it did not call Southwell a liar as the Board and Smith had done. In fact, Southwell had long complained loudly and consistently that the toxic work environment under the Board and Smith were responsible for the 2008 shootings. Bullying was seen as central. In fact, the Board told Smith to cure the bullying by calling us. Hence, the Board validated Southwell’s claim.

The NLRB allowed the hospital to have its rules. They are not illegal. But the overzealous Smith’s application of the rules was what violated Southwell’s rights under the National Labor Relations Act, Section 7.

The ALJ William Kocol ordered CPH to give Ray Southwell his job back and much more. CPH has until Aug. 30 to claim an exception to the ruling in disagreement. The full NLRB in D.C. then would review the case. Then, if the ruling stands, CPH either complies or goes to federal District Court. I wonder how much money the small hospital is willing to pay simply to sustain the crazy Ryan Smith hate campaign against Ray Southwell.

Current CEO Rick Smith has the chance to make amends for Ryan Smith’s mismanagement of the work environment. He has all the tools at his disposal. We put them there!

And now for some real justice, a dose of shame delivered to an employer who said they cared about workplace bullying and shelved all the earnest work done by committed workers and managers.

CPH was ordered to post the following at the hospital:

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES

Posted by Order of the National Labor Relations Board
An Agency of the United States Government

The National Labor Relations Board has found that we violated Federal labor law and has ordered us to post and obey this notice.

FEDERAL LAW GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO

Form, join, or assist a union
Choose representatives to bargain with us on your behalf
Act together with other employees for your benefit and protection
Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.

WE WILL NOT discipline, suspend, discharge or otherwise discriminate against any of you for engaging in concerted activity that is protected by the Act.

WE WILL NOT apply work rules HR-210, HR-302, or any other work rule in a manner that interferes with activity that is protected by Section 7 of the Act.

WE WILL NOT in any like or related manner interfere with, restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of the rights guaranteed you by Section 7 of the Act.

WE WILL, within 14 days from the date of this Order, offer Ray Southwell full reinstatement to his former job or, if that job no longer exists, to a substantially equivalent position, without prejudice to his seniority or any other rights or privileges previously enjoyed.

WE WILL make Ray Southwell whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits resulting from his suspension and discharge, less any net interim earnings, plus interest compounded daily.

WE WILL, within 14 days from the date of this Order, remove from our files any reference to the unlawful discipline, suspension, and discharge of Ray Southwell, and WE WILL, within 3 days thereafter, notify him in writing that this has been done and that those matters will not be used against him in any way.

Central Peninsula Hospital, Inc.

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Here is the complete copy of the NLRB decision.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, August 12th, 2012 at 12:58 pm and is filed under Media About Bullying, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, Rulings by Courts, Tutorials About Bullying, Unions, WBI Education, Workplace Bullying Laws. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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