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Nurse files lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, alleges he was fired after contracting COVID-19

A former nurse and surgical technician at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa who alleges he was fired after contracting COVID-19 on the job is suing the health care giant for discrimination and unlawful termination.

Courtney Jackson, a St. Louis, Missouri, resident, is seeking $1 million or more in damages for his dismissal on March 28, two days after he was released from the hospital following treatment for COVID.

Jackson, who worked as a traveling nurse for Alliant Staffing, a temporary employment firm under contract with Kaiser, accused Kaiser and Alliant of illegal discrimination, retaliation and termination in a 23-page lawsuit filed this month in Alameda County Superior Court.

“Only when I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was going to die was I allowed the opportunity to be tested and cared for at Kaiser Santa Rosa,” Jackson said in a statement provided by his lawyer’s office.

Kaiser called the lawsuit groundless. In a statement, the HMO said contract assignments for hundreds of temporary workers, like Jackson, were ended when the state ordered hospitals across California to cancel elective surgeries in March and prepare for a potential surge of coronavirus patients.

“We are glad that Mr. Jackson recovered from COVID-19. However, we believe this lawsuit has no merit,” the company said in a statement.

Jackson, who has been employed by Alliant since 2018, began working in the surgical unit at Kaiser’s Santa Rosa hospital on March 9, according to the lawsuit.

Two days into his assignment, the hospital notified Jackson that it was treating COVID patients at the facility, according to the suit. On March 14, Jackson began to experience flu-like symptoms. He notified supervisors of his symptoms on March 18 and requested a COVID test, expressing concerns that he could infect patients. Supervisors denied his request and required Jackson to continue working, according to the suit.

Over the next two days, Jackson continued to work even though he experienced “tremendous difficulty breathing, suffered from exhaustion and could barely speak over his mask,” according to the suit. His employer began insinuating Jackson was “lazy” because he had to take naps during his breaks and assigned him menial tasks as punishment, the suit alleged.

“Instead of addressing his concerns, Employer began joking about his medical condition in the operating room, with one doctor saying: ’We better hurry up and finish before Jackson gives us all COVID,’” the suit stated.

Jackson was sent to the emergency room for treatment on March 25 when he experienced difficulty breathing and dizziness, according to the suit. He was hospitalized for two days, where he tested positive for COVID, then placed on mandatory quarantine for 14 days upon his release. He alleged he was fired March 28 “under the pretext that the hospital was no longer scheduling elective surgeries.”

Jackson, who is Black, alleged his race played a role in his termination. All the other non-Black contract employees in his situation “maintained their work assignments and were reassigned to other departments commensurate with patient treatment priorities,” the lawsuit said.

Jackson said he previously had numerous assignments at Kaiser hospitals, developing respect and admiration for the system, but at Santa Rosa “they made me feel less than as a health care professional.”

Kaiser said it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and has strict policies preventing it. “Those policies apply to everyone, regardless of whether they are an employee, manager, or contract employee,” the statement said..

The HMO noted that Jackson was not a Kaiser Permanente employee, but rather was on temporary assignment as a surgical technician under an arrangement with his employer, Alliant Staffing. He was provided appropriate protective equipment, the same as Kaiser Permanente employees receive and consistent with guidance from public health authorities, Kaiser said.

Two weeks after Jackson started his assignment, state officials ordered postponement of elective surgeries, Kaiser said. “As a result, contract assignments for hundreds of temporary staff employed by Alliant and other agencies across the state were ended, because the work they were contracted for was no longer taking place,” Kaiser said.

The procedures, a major source of hospital revenue, were allowed to resume in California on April 22.

Jackson’s complaint seeks damages for lost wages and benefits, as well as mental pain and anguish, emotional distress and loss of earning capacity, as well as attorneys fees.

Jackson was unavailable for comment Monday due to a death in his family, according to Mosley & Associates, the Los Angeles law firm led by Walter Mosley. He was recently hired as a surgical technician at a Chicago hospital.

The lawsuit alleges Jackson complained about “unsafe working conditions” that put the health of co-workers and patients at risk “because he was required to work with known COVID-19 symptoms and without proper personal protective equipment to ensure infection control.”

In April, a Kaiser nurse told The Press Democrat she and her colleagues on the COVID floor were unhappy that the hospital was not providing them with N95 respirator masks deemed by the federal government as “preferred” protective equipment unless they are not available.

A Kaiser senior vice president and the local hospital’s chief physician said in a statement the hospital was “aligned with the most up-to-date evidence-based science” and using the same personal protective equipment as “other hospital systems in California and across the nation.”

In May, a group of local health professionals claimed Kaiser discouraged use of N95 masks by some workers who bought the masks for themselves and colleagues who work around COVID-19 patients.

A Kaiser spokesman dismissed the claims, stating that staff treating possible COVID patients who might spread the virus are required to wear N95 masks, as well as face shields or goggles, gowns and gloves.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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