Bozeman Nurse Settles Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit – Shea Law Firm Bozeman, MT

Chronicle Staff | Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012

A Bozeman nurse who claims she was fired after acting as a surrogate mother for a patient has settled her wrongful discharge lawsuit with Billings Clinic.

Anicee Acosta-Yearick contended that Billings Clinic wrongly fired her for ethics violations when she agreed to carry the patient’s baby in 2009, according to court documents.

Acosta-Yearick worked for Bozeman OB/GYN, owned by Billings Clinic, for 16 years before she was fired in January 2010. She was fired because “as a licensed professional nurse, she used her knowledge of private, protected health information to influence and solicit a Billings Clinic patient to enter into a surrogacy contract resulting in personal gain,” which violates the nursing and clinic codes of conduct, court documents state.
Billings Clinic filed an ethics violation complaint against Acosta-Yearick with the Montana Nursing Board, but the board decided the complaint did not justify legal or disciplinary action, according to court records.

Acosta-Yearick claimed she is friendly with the couple who asked for her help, court documents state, and she did not ask for money other than expenses.

Medical providers, who worked with Acosta-Yearick, supported her decision to be a surrogate mother for the patient. They submitted written statements that called into question the clinic’s motives for firing Acosta-Yearick.

The clinic filed to dismiss the case, saying state law protects employers from being sued for wrongful discharge when they have good cause. The clinic’s attorney claimed the accusations of insurance fraud, ethics violations and Acosta-Yearick’s decision to make money from the surrogacy were all valid reasons for firing her.

A Gallatin County judge’s order closing the wrongful discharge lawsuit didn’t include the settlement amount.

In a separate complaint, the insurance commissioner ordered health insurer New West Health Services to pay Acosta-Yearick’s medical bills for maternity care. New West had originally withdrawn its coverage after learning of the surrogate pregnancy.

A federal lawsuit against New West also has been settled and closed.

Bozeman Settles Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit – Shea Law Firm Bozeman, Montana

JODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012

City Manager Chris Kukulski’s former executive assistant has agreed to a $20,000 settlement with the city of Bozeman in a wrongful discharge case, the city’s attorney said Wednesday.

Karen Semerau sued the city several months after she was laid off “as part of a reduction in the city’s workforce due to budgetary reasons,” according to the complaint attorney Todd Shea filed in Gallatin County District Court in 2010.

“At the time of Ms. Semerau’s termination, the city had not prepared its budget for the upcoming year,” Shea argued. No other employees were let go and, in fact, city officials approved hiring three more employees two months after Semerau was laid off. They also gave pay raises to 45 city employees, including Kukulski.

But attorneys Kevin Meek and Cathy Lewis argued the city had legitimate reasons for eliminating Semerau’s position.

And though Semerau’s final day was to be June 30, 2010, she asked to leave at the end of April, defense attorneys stated.

Semerau’s “damages were caused, in part, by her own decision to leave her employment” early, they wrote.

Shea, however, argued that Semerau “quickly realized that the city was no longer interested in fully utilizing her services” and she “did not want to be on the city payroll knowing that (her) position was being eliminated.”

“I was under an enormous amount of stress,” Semerau wrote in an affidavit.
The city further argued that Semerau did not file a grievance per city policies and asked District Judge John Brown to dismiss the suit. State law mandates that prior to filing a lawsuit, employees “must first exhaust an employer’s grievance procedure before he or she can bring a wrongful discharge action,” defense attorneys claimed. But Shea contended Semerau was not adequately informed of city policy despite numerous communications to her before and after her termination.

“Ms. Semerau never understood or was ever made aware that the grievance procedures applied to either the elimination of her position or the termination of her employment,” he wrote, calling the policy “ambiguous.”

“Any ambiguity should be construed most strongly against the party who caused the uncertainty to exist,” he wrote.

“Thankfully Karen has secured a new job and she wanted closure with the city,” Shea said Wednesday.

Meek declined to comment beyond stating the settlement amount, referring the, Chronicle to the Bozeman City Attorney’s Office. A call to that office was not returned Wednesday.