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Court finds direct evidence of whistleblower retaliation by Trinity Health; summary disposition overturned

Todd F. Fuhr filed suit in Kent County Circuit Court against Trinity Health Corp., doing business as Saint Mary's Health Care. He had been employed in the role of Surgical Services Infromatics Manager, a position created to address problems in inventory accounting.  His two annual performance reviews were positive, although his supervisors claimed that they received complaints from persons he supervised.  The evaluations made no mention of inventory issues.

A "coach" was hired to work with Fuhr's relationships with subordinates, and within three months, the Finance Department was recruiting a replacement for Fuhr, indicating he was "on his way out."  At this point, nothing negative had been placed in Fuhr's employment file and he had not been advised of his looming termination.

During the same time period, Fuhr reported to management and to the U.S. Attorney's office his concern that a vendor had removed inventory from the hospital and would be attempting to "double-bill" for the supplies.  One month later, Fuhr was terminated at a meeting where management initially refused to provide any explanation for his firing. Later in the meeting, Fuhr claimed, he was told that "this was about his report to the U.S. Attorney." 

Fuhr filed suit, and the Hospital sought summary disposition, claiming that the decision to fire Fuhr was actually made before he registered his complaint with the U.S. Attorney.  The trial judge held that given the evidence of the hospital's motive, it was unlikly that Fuhr was telling the truth about his separation meeting.  The judge claimed that the "only logical explanation" was that Fuhr was not telling the truth, that reasonable jurors could not disagree, and granted summary disposition. 

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge's decision, pointing out that his holding required a weighing of credibility.  When credibility is an issue, summary disposition is inappropriate.

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