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Nurse Cannot Sue Attending Physician for Wrongful Termination by the Hospital


A nurse could not maintain a claim for wrongful termination by a hospital against an attending physician in the absence of an employee/employer relationship between the nurse and the physician. Even if the physician exercised some degree of control or supervision of the nurse’s daily activities in an individual capacity, Missouri law does not consider individuals who merely supervise an employee as employers for the purpose of wrongful-discharge claims. The nurse claimed to have been terminated, in part, for refusing the physician’s unwanted advances, resulting in the physician’s false complaints about the quality of the nurse’s work and subsequent termination. However, the employer was the hospital, not the physician, so summary judgment in favor of the physician was sustained.

 

The court also sustained summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital on the nurse’s claim alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Under Missouri law, if the discharge of an at-will employee violates a clear mandate of public policy, the employee has a wrongful discharge claim, but the public policy exception to the at-will employment rule is very narrowly drawn.

 

The nurse had vocally objected to a change in hospital policy. Previously a certain procedure, the insertion of peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines, had only been performed by nurses. The rule was changed prohibiting nurses from inserting PICC lines and turning the responsibility for such procedures over to a physician’s assistant. The nurse alleged having non-nurses insert PICCs violated the Missouri Nursing Practices Act (NPA), and that her objections to the policy change were one basis for her termination by the hospital. The court held that the NPA did not establish a public policy that only nurses could insert PICCs, so her objections to the policy could not be a basis for a wrongful termination claim. Farrow v. St. Francis Medical Center, 2012 WL 451882 (Mo.App. E.D.  Feb 14, 2012) (not designated for publication).

 

 

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