Illinois Coronavirus Lawsuit Implicates Healthcare and Employment Practices Liability Concerns

April 6, 2020 / News / Writing and Speaking

Introduction

As noted in the ongoing blitz of professional and news commentaries, the COVID-19 pandemic spans numerous legal practice areas, from force majeure clauses, to first-party property insurance claims, to premises and professional liability defense.  Clausen Miller attorneys have been working around the clock to assist our clients in navigating emerging issues and claims, including the formation of key coronavirus task forces and monitoring of significant coronavirus litigation nationwide.  A recently filed Illinois state court action alleging that a nurse was fired for warning about inadequate Covid-19 masks supplied by her hospital employer illustrates the potential interplay of healtchcare and employment practice liability concerns.  Mazurkiewicz v. Northwestern Memorial Hosp, No. 2020-L-003511 (Cook Cty,, IL).

Facts

Plaintiff  Lauri Mazurkiewicz, a Chicago nurse employed by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, claims she was fired for warning colleagues that masks provided by the hospital to protect against COVID-19 infection were inadequate.  According to her complaint, plaintiff was exposed to patients with the novel coronavirus beginning in March 2020 and chose to wear her own N95 masks instead of the less effective face masks that the hospital required its employees to wear.   Plaintiff sent an email to colleagues and supervisors stating that N95 face masks—which filter out 95% of airborne particles—are safer and more effective than the masks that were being distributed by the hospital.  The next day, plaintiff showed up to work wearing an N95 mask and was fired.

Analysis

 
Plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges a claim of retaliation under Illinois’ Whistleblower Act, as well as a claim of retaliatory discharge.  Plaintiff contends that she was terminated to prevent her from speaking out about the hospital’s alleged malfeasance and to prevent her from informing coworkers that the provided face masks were unsafe. She further alleges that her firing was in retaliation for the email she sent warning her coworkers about the ineffectiveness of the provided masks “for the purpose of promoting public health.”  

Learning Points:

This is just one of many healthcare and employment-related lawsuits we can expect to see stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.  As with most liability matters, we recommend complete, through and timely documentation of the reasons for decisions (in this case concerning the choice of masks provided by the hospital and the grounds for plaintiff’s termination) to assist in any future defense efforts.  We will continue to monitor Mazurkiewicz and advise our readers of further developments.         

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