Court upholds jury verdict for LPN fired after reporting malpractice by a co-worker
Roberto Landin sued Healthsource Saginaw, Inc., for retaliation after it fired him. He claimed that Healthsource fired him for reporting negligence by a co-worker which Landin believed direclty contributed to the death of a patient. He argued that even though like most Michigan workers, he was "terminable at will," he couldn't be fired in violation of a statute that prohibits health facilities from discharging, disciplining or otherwise discriminating against an employee who reports or intends to report malpractice.
The trial judge rejected Healthsource's motion for summary disposition and a jury, after hearing the facts, concluded that Landin had proved illegal retaliation. The defendant corporation appealed arguing a number of evidentiary objections and also arguing that its termination of Landin's employment was not "in violation of Michigan public policy" as our very conservative courts have defined that concept. The hospital also argued that if Landin had any legal recourse it was under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), which would have required that he file his suit within only 90 days.
The Court rejected all of Healthsource Saginaw's appeal arguments. It noted that the pertinent statute stated a firm public policy position by the Michigan Legislature that Landin was entitled to invoke. Since the Legislature had explicitly made this public policy part of the Public Health Code, the Courts were duly bound to enforce the provision. It also held that given the explicit adoption of this statute, the WPA was not Landin's "exclusive remedy."
With regard to evidentiary issues, the Court confirmed that it was a jury question whether the Hospital would have fired Landin for unrelated reasons; it also rejected the hospital's claim that he had stolen and improperly used redacted patient records to disprove hospital allegations of a valid cause for firing Landin. It held that Landin's duty to mitigate was also an issue for the jury to resolve and that the Defendant, not Landin, bore the burden of proving that he violated his duty to mitigate by quitting the first replacement job he found. Lastly, the court held that the trial judge properly allowed into evidence testimony that Landin's supervisor had falsified documents: issues of credibility are expressly issues for the jury to resolve.