Former employees win battle with "defamed" home health care provider
Evergreen Home Health Care sued two former employees (a nurse and a nurse aid) in an effort to punish them for criticizing the care given by Evergreen. It alleged breach of a non-compete agreement, defamation and interference in its legal contracts with residents and their families. It rejected mediation-proposed settlements and nominal settlement offers before its claims were ultimately dismissed by the trial court.
Evergreen never produced a non-compete involving one of the former employees and the court deemed the other agreement "unreasonable" and unenforcible. It concluded the suit was filed in retaliation for the employees' complaints reaching the office of the Attorney General and were in the nature of a "spite" or vengeance action--particularly given the fact that the employees had no insurance coverage and the suit appeared intended primarily to "ruin them financially." The Court found no "significant, material" evidentiary support for Evergreen's claim and awarded the employees sanctions in the form of costs and fees.
The Court of Appeals upheld the decision, and agreed with the lower court that the action was frivolous. The higher court also returned the case to the lower court to explain why it had not awarded the employees' attorney the full amount of fees that they documented. Given the attorney's 30+ years of experience, the lower court's failure to sanction his $200.00 per hour fee appeared to the Court of Appeals to be arbitrary on its face.