EEOC finds HOF discriminated against nurse
Thursday, May 20, 2004
By STEVEN N. LEVINE
HAINES CITY - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission determined recently that Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center likely discriminated against a pregnant delivery room nurse and fired her for complaining to government officials.
Tammi J. Carter, of Winter Haven, was 32 weeks pregnant when she was fired by the hospital in mid-August for purportedly endangering the life of a mother and newborn during a delivery two weeks prior. No complaint was ever filed with the state Board of Nursing, and the patient's physician, Dr. Julio R. SanMartin, doubts Carter's supervisor's allegations that she acted inappropriately.
SanMartin, who arrived late in the delivery, wrote the EEOC's Tampa office in December, "that (he) found it hard to believe that Mrs. Carter would take such action because she was an experienced obstetrical nurse and I had never before known her to do anything so inappropriate."
Likewise, the EEOC Area Director Manuel Zurita claimed that labor and delivery nurse manager Beth Schneider "misinterpreted evidence and made it appear as if (Carter) placed a mother and her newborn at risk," leading to her firing.
The mother and her 7-pound, 4- ounce girl recovered from the delivery without incident, and no one in the delivery room complained of problems upon SanMartin's arrival. Schneider is no longer employed at the hospital, Linda Pilkington, Heart of Florida hospital spokeswoman said.
Zurita last month determined a relationship between Carter's firing and the discrimination charge. He also found, "there is reasonable cause to believe that violations of...the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have occurred, as alleged."
Schneider, reached at home Wednesday, declined to comment on the case.
Heart of Florida Chief Executive Officer Ann Barnhart Wednesday said the hospital, "strongly disagrees with the EEOC's findings." Carter's firing stemmed from "patient complaints and not her pregnancy or her claim of pregnancy discrimination. We don't terminate because of pregnancy," Barnhart said. She declined to elaborate. EEOC officials were unavailable to comment.
Carter, who reported positive reviews from two previous managers, is represented by Tampa attorney Robert F. McKee. A $100,000 settlement offer to Heart of Florida including $40,000 back wages and $55,000 for pain and suffering was rejected in April.
Carter, who has two older children, delivered healthy twin girls at Heart of Florida last October. Carter must work outside the county, she claims, because of negative references from Heart of Florida hospital.
Leslie Homsted, Florida Nurses Association director of professional practice advocacy, speaking generally, said a hospital discriminating against a pregnant nurse is unprecedented if it is true. The Orlando-based group was unaware of the incident or the EEOC's finding last month.
"There are cases in which a pregnant nurse may be reassigned from (treatment) areas that involve chemotherapy, X-rays or radioactive material which would be appropriate," Homsted said.
Even Carter, 30, is unclear what exactly about her pregnancy caused the problem with Schneider last winter. Carter claimed she had no previous counseling or blots on her work record since starting at Heart of Florida in September 1999.
A hospital response dated last Nov. 12 claimed it could not have retaliated because the EEOC's notice did not arrive until a week after Carter was fired. Carter initially sent her complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations which forwarded the issue to the federal agency.