Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tri-City Hospital pays $300,000 for alleged Brown Act violations

See all Tri-City Healthcare posts.

HOSPITAL: Tri-City settles Brown Act lawsuit filed by former executives
Hospital agrees to pay $300,000, but admits no violation
February 25, 2010

Tri-City Medical Center has settled a lawsuit brought by a group of former hospital executives who alleged Tri-City violated the state's open meeting law, called the Brown Act, when four hospital board members put the executives on paid leave during a hastily called closed-door meeting in December 2008.

Ray Artiano, an attorney for the seven executives, said Thursday afternoon that Tri-City settled the case for $300,000, which will cover attorney's fees. The executives ---- who were later fired by Tri-City ---- have also filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that is still working its way through the courts.

Courtney Berlin, a spokesperson for Tri-City, confirmed the settlement in the Brown Act lawsuit this week. She said in an e-mail that it doesn't admit "any error on the part of our Board or any violation of the Brown Act."

"In order to preserve the company's resources, we felt it was appropriate to settle the matter," Berlin said.

Four of seven Tri-City board members voted during a special meeting on Dec. 8, 2008, to sideline the seven executives and call in an accounting firm to conduct a forensic investigation of the public hospital's books. Tri-City's former chief executive Arthur Gonzalez was put on leave during the same meeting.

In February 2009, the seven sued Tri-City's board, alleging it had violated several aspects of public meetings law.

The suit asked a Superior Court judge to declare the decision invalid, but more than one year later there had been no ruling in the case. Artiano said that when the suit was filed, there was some hope among the executives that a decision would come quickly and could result in them being reinstated.

In the intervening months, Gonzalez settled with the hospital district and found a new job running a large hospital system in Minneapolis.

In the wrongful termination lawsuits, the remaining executives are seeking more than $1 million each. Lawyers on both sides are now arguing whether the case belongs in federal or state court.

Artiano's clients include Doreen Sanderson, Tri-City's former vice president of human resources; Allen Coleman, former vice president of strategic services; Robert Wardwell, former chief financial officer; Daniel Groszkruger, former director of information systems; Ondrea Labella, former director of patient business services; Suellyn Ellerbe, former chief operating officer and chief nurse executive; and Terry Howell, former vice president of performance improvement.

Their salaries ranged from $194,000 to $325,000 per year.

While Artiano acknowledged that Tri-City has admitted no culpability with regard to open meetings law violations, he said the fact that the hospital settled means something.

"We thought the amount was sufficient to make a point, and now we will focus on the wrongful termination cases," Artiano said.


Anonymous said...

Can anyone point to a place on the web where we can read legal documents related to the current status of the wrongful termination case?

Maura Larkins said...

I'll see what I can do. I'm going to the courthouse tomorrow; maybe I can get copies of some of the documents.

Anonymous said...

YES the FEDERAL documents are in PACER. However there is another case in state court. The agreement is probably not in the courts. Artiano and the entire SASH group like to make agreements and settlements behind closed doors.

In fact many of the documents SASH has and should be PUBLIC DOCUMENTS but have not been disclosed to the PUBLIC.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Maura. Look forward to reading what you find.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear on what you are referring to, or where to-- "READ THE COMMENTS IN THE STORY THEY ARE AN EYE OPENER." and could you point more closely to the page or pages on PACER? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

click on the North County Times story to read the comments.

Pacer is a paid program that allows lawyers (anyone who wants to pay for the online program) to view records filed in FEDERAL court only.

As far as the state records they can be viewed only at the local courthouses. Either Northern, Central or Eastern Division. This particular case if filed in the Northern/Melrose Division.

The pacer files are better because the federal courts are more organized. The state courts loose documents, people.., well usually insurance companies who pay out removed docs from files.

It is impossible to remove a scanned file by individuals. Unless it is approved by the court first. Ussually by a request to seal the file.

In state court the long fingers do the removal of documents...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any information on the Plaintiff Suellyn Ellerbe,former TCHD COO/CNO? Any other complaints or questions regarding her performance and/or conduct?

Anonymous said...

The vote was not unanimous Sterling was the lone voice who dissented. If you did not break the law why would one settle?