hospital after discrimination whistleblowing
Hollenback v. Shriners Hospitals for Children, --- P.3d ----,
2009 WL 1152042 (Wash.App. Div. 3 Mar 17, 2009) (NO. 26626-5-III)
In 1996, Cheryl Hollenback was hired as an at-will employee by
Shriners Hospitals for Children in Spokane, Washington. At the time
she was terminated in 2006, Ms. Hollenback held the position of
Director of Patient Care Services, one of three top management
positions at Shriners. Ms. Hollenback reported harassment,
discrimination, and fear of retaliation to Shriners resulting from
problems caused by Chief of Staff Dr. Ronny Ferguson's romantic
relationship with one of Ms. Hollenback's subordinates. Ultimately,
Dr. Ferguson resigned, and Shriners terminated Ms. Hollenback.
Ms. Hollenback filed an action alleging retaliation, failure to
provide specific treatment in specific situations, breach of
contract, and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The
trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Shriners and
dismissed all of Ms. Hollenback's claims. Ms. Hollenback appeals.
The appellate court reversed only the dismissal of the retaliation
RCW 49.60.210 prohibits employers from terminating employees for
opposing acts violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD).
Ms. Hollenback needed to establish that: (1) she participated in a
statutorily protected activity; (2) an adverse employment action was
taken against her; and (3) her activity and the employer's adverse
action were causally connected.
The conduct complained of need not actually be unlawful; the
employee must establish only that he or she reasonably believed that
the employer's conduct was discriminatory.
If the plaintiff proves a prima facie case, the evidentiary
burden shifts to the employer to produce admissible evidence of a
legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the discharge. If the employer
meets its burden and produces some evidence of a nonretaliatory
reason for the discharge, the presumption of retaliatory discharge
established by the prima facie evidence is removed. The employee
must then establish a genuine issue of material fact by showing that
the employer's stated reason for the adverse employment action was a
pretext for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose.
The plaintiff need not show that retaliation was the only or ‘but
for’ cause of the adverse employment action, but he or she must
establish that it was at least a substantial factor.” One factor
supporting a retaliatory motive is a close proximity in time between
the protected activity and the employment action.