Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Superior Court Allows Claim For Wrongful Discharge By Former Hospital Executive

In the non-precedential decision of Haun v. Community Health Systems, Inc., et al., No.: 2350 EDA 2009 (PA Super. 12/20/2010), the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed and adopted the decision of the trial court, which refused to dismiss a wrongful discharge claim filed by a former hospital executive.

Richard Haun served as the Chief Financial Officer at Phoenixville Hospital from June, 2007 until November 12, 2008. Haun was an at-will employee in his position as CFO.

On August 23, 2007, Haun's wife gave birth to premature twins at Phoenixville Hospital. The twins were taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Phoenixville Hospital, and while in the Unit, one of the twins became disconnected from an IV line. This caused extensive blood loss to the baby, which in turn, resulted in severe and irreversible injury to the baby's central nervous system.

Shortly thereafter, Haun and his wife filed a medical malpractice suit against Phoenixville Hospital, its corporate parents and a number of the doctors and nurses at Phoenixville Hospital.

Five days after being served with the suit, the Interim President for the corporate hospital defendants sent an email to the CEO of Phoenixville Hospital, instructing him to have a discussion with the Chief Counsel for the corporate hospital defendants about the possibility of terminating Haun's employment. On November 12, 2008, the CEO of Phoenixville Hospital and the Phoenixville Hospital Human Resources Director met with Haun and informed him that he was being fired from the hospital because he was "an adversary of the company and it's too much risk." Haun was then immediately escorted from the building and was denied the opportunity to collect his personal effects.

After being fired from Phoenixville Hospital, Haun filed a second suit against the Hospital and its corporate parents, alleging, among other claims, wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The corporate defendants filed objections seeking dismissal of this claim, arguing that Haun had failed to plead any recognized public policy exception to Pennsylvania's employee at-will doctrine.

The trial court overruled this objection, holding that Haun had established a good-faith argument that his dismissal violated public policy. Specifically, the trial court found that the public policy of Pennsylvania favors allowing the victims of medical malpractice to seek adequate compensation and also favors parents asserting legal claims on behalf of their children. The trial court held that these precepts supported Haun's allegations that his termination for assisting his child in seeking compensation for alleged medical malpractice violated a clear mandate of public policy.

On appeal, the Superior Court agreed with the reasoning and analysis of the trial court, and adopted the trial court's discussion of this issue as its own.