Appeal from Superior Court of Grant County. Docket No: 93-2-00085-1. Date filed: 05/12/95. Judge signing: Hon. Evan E. Sperline.
Authored by Philip J. Thompson. Concurring: Dennis J. Sweeney, Stephen M. Brown.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson
THOMPSON, J. Jody Lund appeals the superior court's dismissal of her wrongful employment termination claim against Grant County Public Hospital District No. 2, d/b/a Quincy Valley Hospital. She contends the court erred in concluding there was no genuine dispute that the hospital had just cause for her dismissal. We agree and reverse the dismissal.
Ms. Lund worked as a nurse at Quincy Valley Hospital. On June 28, 1992, Deborah Harwood brought her son to the hospital, suspecting he had broken one or both of his arms. After Dr. Edward Nash examined and treated the boy, Ms. Lund told Ms. Harwood the doctor had concluded the boy had broken one arm and sprained the other.
Ms. Lund then took Ms. Harwood aside and asked to speak privately, explaining that what she was doing was improper, and she could get into trouble. Ms. Lund said she and the x-ray technician believed the boy had broken both arms; Ms. Lund said if it were her son, she would get copies of the x-rays and consult another doctor. Ms. Harwood left the hospital with copies of the x-rays, but did not act on Ms. Lund's recommendation.
The next day, Ms. Harwood (who worked in the hospital's kitchen) told her supervisor about the incident. Within an hour, Loc Ohl, the hospital's administrative director, questioned Ms. Harwood; within the next day or two, Ms. Harwood also spoke by telephone to Kim Bird, the hospital administrator. Ms. Harwood told both administrators what Ms. Lund had done and said. According to a memo from Ms. Ohl, the incident angered Dr. Nash, who stated Ms. Lund was "unsafe and dangereous [sic]" and demanded her dismissal.
On the other hand, Cindi Rang, who as director of nursing services normally handled discipline of nurses, treated the incident as "no big deal" and left for vacation believing Ms. Lund should be given a verbal warning and would not be terminated. According to Ms. Rang, the type of advice Ms. Lund gave "frequently occurred in our rural setting. To my knowledge no one had ever been disciplined for this before." She also was unaware of anyone being disciplined for allowing a patient to have copies of x-rays. In Ms. Rang's opinion, the "Harwood incident" did not constitute just cause for Ms. Lund's termination.
In Ms. Rang's absence, Mr. Bird fired Ms. Lund on the following grounds:
1. Violated Hospital/C.C. Policies and Procedures (Personnel Policy and Procedure Manual page 38, violation No. 10, 11 and 12) *fn1
2. Violated state RCW . . .
3. The cause of internal problems and conflicts in the nursing department
4. Ms. Lund's unprofessional behavior could cause potential liability to the hospital
5. Breach of confidentiality Mr. Bird later stated Ms. Lund had violated the hospital's Responsible Intervention Policy, under which nurses who were concerned about the quality of a physician's care were required to articulate their concerns through the hospital's administrative hierarchy. The dismissal was affirmed by the hospital's board of directors.
Ms. Lund's complaint alleged breach of contract, negligence, wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, and violation of RCW 49.36.010 (recognizing the legal rights of labor unions). She later stipulated to dismissal of all but the breach of contract claims. The hospital moved for summary judgment, contending that (1) Ms. Lund was an "at-will" employee, and ...