Metro-East News

Former employee sues nursing home, claiming she was fired for her disability

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A former employee of a Belleville nursing home is suing the health-care facility for allegedly firing her because of her disability and her race.

Katrina Hearn, who was terminated from the Four Fountains nursing home by Helia Healthcare of Belleville on Jan. 25, 2018, filed the lawsuit in federal court Oct. 24.

In the lawsuit, Hearn alleges that Four Fountains violated the Family and Medical Leave Act when it fired her the day she came back from taking two days off to treat an infection of her cochlear implant, which she wears for hearing loss.

Four Fountains declined to comment on the case Thursday afternoon.

Hearn’s attorneys, Ryan M. Furniss and Joshua G. Miller of St. Louis, declined to comment on the ongoing case.

At the time of her termination, Hearn was the nursing home’s director of nursing, the lawsuit states. On Jan. 19, 2018, she had seen a CNA’s belongings, including a cup of hot coffee, left unattended in a resident’s room and moved them out of fear a resident with “diminished mental facilities and loss of fine motor control” would get hurt. The CNA to whom the things belonged became angry with Hearn and Hearn escorted her off the premises, the lawsuit states.

A few days later, on Jan. 22, 2018, Hearn’s implant became infected and she requested time off from the facility’s director. According to the lawsuit, the director declined to give Hearn the time off and told her she should resign because of her medical condition and the added “stress” of the incident with the CNA.

According to the lawsuit, the director suggested Hearn consider becoming the Assistant Director of Nursing, a position with less authority and potentially less pay. Hearn told her she would think about the change and took off the next two days to treat her infection.

When Hearn returned to work on Jan. 25, 2018, the lawsuit states, she was told she should become a floor nurse with no supervisory role and significantly less pay. When Hearn declined, she was terminated, the lawsuit states.

Upon being fired, Hearn filed a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights and was issued a Notice of Right to Sue, resulting in the lawsuit.

Hern states in the lawsuit that despite her cochlear implant, she is qualified to do the essential functions of her job and that Four Fountains was aware of her condition and limitations when they hired her.

Hearn, who is mixed Asian and Caucasian, also alleges in the lawsuit that Four Fountains saw her race “as a liability” and that it was “a motivating factor” in her termination. The lawsuit does not specify in what ways Four Fountains discriminated against her on this basis, but states that it violated the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

As a result of her termination, Hearn states in the lawsuit that she lost past and future wages, earning capacity and career opportunities and suffered shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, loss of sleep and emotional distress.

The lawsuit seeks past, present and future lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages, punitive and exemplary damages, interest, cost and reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.