Nurse wins the right to appeal her termination
The Hillsdale County Medical Care and Rehabilitation Center fired Peggy Wells, an LPN with 19 years experience, after it decided she "used inappropriate and unrespectful" language toward a nurse aide in the presence of a resident, and was unduly abrupt in telling another resident that the resident was "not allowed to interrupt her" while she was dispensing medication to another resident. The Care Facility "self-reported" an incident of abuse to the State, and then used that report to defend Wells' arbitration demand through her union.
An arbitrator found that the termination was inappropriate for three reasons: 1. Wells single instance of impatience was at worst rude and certainly not abuse; 2. it resulted from a fatal procedural error, in that Wells was never advised of the State institutional "report" or allowed to respond to the allegations or appeal any findings; and 3. the termination violated the facility's "progressive, corrective discipline" policy and denied Wells "fundamental due process." The facility then sued in Circuit Court to overturn the arbitrator's decision.
The trial judge held that while there was probably no abuse in this case, he and the arbitrator were powerless to object to a State finding of neglect and therefore overturned the arbitrator's decision. On appeal to the Federal Court, the high court rejected the trial judge's analysis. It pointed out that the judge wrongly concluded that Wells could have participated in or appealed the findings of the "institutional investigation." The court held that it was an abuse of discretion to allow the facility to use its "self-reported" claim of "abuse" by Wells to preclude her from defending her rights, and that she should have been allowed to present evidence in the Circuit Court to document the factual basis for the arbitrator's ruling.