Employee manuals may give rights to 'at-will' employees.

Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Position:Nursing Law Case of the Month - Case overview

CASE ON POINT: Fennessey v. Mt. Carmel Health Sys., Inc., 2009-Ohio-3750 (7/30/2009)-OH

CASE FACTS: Barbara Fennessey had been employed as a Registered Nurse by Mount Carmel System (or its successor) since September of 1976. During that time, Mount Carmel issued an employment manual to her. While working on October 25, 1999, she used physical restraints to confine an unruly patient and then poured water over the patient's face, in violation of hospital protocol. On November 3, 1999, hospital management learned of the actions and conducted an investigation. After the investigation, Mount Carmel placed Nurse Fennessey on administrated leave. The administrative leave was extended to November 16, 1999, at which time Nurse Fennessey went on a previously scheduled medical leave. When she returned from medical leave on January 10, 2000, she learned that Mount Carmel terminated her employment. On the progressive counseling form executed that same day by hospital manager Linda Weatherholt, she indicated the counseling classification as "unsatisfactory performance" because of "violation of rules or regulations." The form indicated that Nurse Fennessey's behavior constituted "patient mistreatment." The nurse's actions, which resulted in her termination, were also reported to the State Board of Nursing, which subsequently suspended Nurse Fennessey's license indefinitely. On January 13, 2000, the nurse commenced an appeal of her termination via Mount Carmel's internal three-step non-management appeal process, as outlined in its employment manual. During step one of the appeal process, the nurse filed her appeal and requested that her termination be modified to a suspension or probation, or, alternatively, that she be permitted to resign. On January 20, 2000, Nurse Fennessey and Linda Weatherholt had a discussion, during which there was an alleged agreement that the nurse would be permitted to resign and collect payment for her unused leave, to which she would not have been entitled had she been terminated for misconduct. Weatherholt told the nurse that she would need to sign a release. On February 11, 2000, Weatherholt delivered the release. However, the nurse refused to sign it because it contained terms she never discussed. The nurse attempted to commence step two of the appeal process. Mount Carmel refused to allow her to continue, claiming the January 20, 2000, agreement resolved her appeal, and she could not reopen the process. Nurse Fennessey...

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