A former senior-level manager claims she was discriminated against and eventually fired from her job at the Kaweah Delta Health Care District because of her race and because she refused to ignore widespread misconduct.
Suit Alleges Racial Bias, Whistleblower Retaliation
The allegations of bias and wrongdoing are detailed in a lawsuit filed in Tulare County Superior Court. Plaintiff Gail Robinson, one-time health information management director for the district, is seeking cash compensation for alleged damages to her career, as well as attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit enumerates multiple claims by Robinson that she was maltreated because she is African American. Additionally, the suit describes a series of supposed misdeeds by various personnel at Kaweah Health. Alleged incidents include safety violations, Medicare and documentation fraud, improper medical practices, and inappropriate disclosure of medical records with identifying patient information.
As health information management director, Robinson would likely have been tasked with the management and maintenance of patient information with a responsibility for its accuracy, completeness and security. Such employees are generally under direct supervision of an officer-level executive. Robinson held the position from September 2019 until October of 2022.
Robinson is represented by Beverly Hills-based attorney Jonathan Genish.
A website for the law firm representing Robinson calls Genish “an award-winning trial attorney” who has represented “A-list celebrities” and Fortune 500 companies. Previously, he worked for “different high-end boutique litigation firms” in Los Angeles.
The case was filed on August 7. A case management hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. on December 5 before Judge Brett Hillman in Department 7.
Kaweah Health Issues Statement
While district policy prohibits discussing publically ongoing or pending litigation against it, Kaweah Health spokeswoman Karen Tallalian issued a brief statement on district policy as it pertains to the allegations:
As a matter of practice, Kaweah Health has an active and robust compliance program and thoroughly investigates all suspected illegal, abusive, or unethical conduct. In compliance with federal and state whistleblower protections, Kaweah Health strictly enforces its non-retaliation policies. Employees are encouraged and Kaweah Health supports its employees to use any one of the reporting systems in place to bring forth concerns without fear of retaliation.
Genish’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Department’s Only African American
As the only African-American employee in her department, Robinson experienced ongoing race-based harassment and mistreatment, her suit alleges. Others in the department got along well with each other, but excluded Robinson from work and social events, according to court filings.
“Ms. Robinson found herself sitting alone during meetings, while everyone else grouped together,” the suit alleges. “Such behavior conveyed a hostile message to Robinson and left her excluded from relevant work-related discussions.”
The suit also claims Robinson was falsely accused of trying to influence the hiring of a person district administrators believed was related to her. The accusations against Robinson were also racially-motivated, the suit says.
“The applicant had Ms. Robinson’s maiden name,” the suit states. “Directors at Kaweah constantly questioned Ms. Robinson’s integrity by implying that she had deceitfully recommended an applicant of the same race, who they claim was related to her, despite her telling them she is not related to the applicant in any way.”
The suit singles out at least one incident of alleged racial discrimination against Robinson.
“Specifically, Raleen Larenz, director of human resources used coded stereotyping language describing Ms. Robinson as ‘angry’ in front of Jamie Morales, director of talent acquisitions, and other Kaweah employees when discussing this topic,” it says.
Finally, the suit alleges Robinson requested and was denied an increase in pay when given additional job responsibilities. The suit claims that in a similar situation involving a “Caucasian” woman, that employee was given two wage increases without requesting them. Robinson’s request for a raise came in June 2020, 10 months after beginning her job with Kaweah Health.
Allegations of Improper, Illegal Conduct at Kaweah Health
Beyond claims of racial bias in a single office at Kaweah Health, the suit reports multiple incidents of ongoing misconduct in various departments in the district.
Throughout her three years of employment at the district, Robinson’s suit says she complained to superiors about the allegedly improper and illegal actions, implicating employees and contractors in both healthcare and administrative positions. Robinson’s repeated complaints were directly responsible for her dismissal, her attorney states.
Implicated directly in the suit are Ben Cripps, the district’s chief compliance and risk officer, and Malinda Tupper, Kaweah Health’s chief financial officer.
“Ms. Robinson’s termination was undoubtedly connected to her history of challenging defendants’ wrongdoings and her refusal to comply with the illegalities she reported,” the suit states. “This was the norm for Kaweah. Ms. Tupper told (Robinson) that Mr. Cripps was in the process of terminating employees who he believed would ‘blow the whistle’ on the organization.”
Medical Staff and Administration Accused
Robinson claims the health of babies in the pediatric department was inadequately assessed on a regular basis. She also alleges no “notes of evaluation” were filed following the death of a child born prematurely. Members of staff also improperly signed medical orders on behalf of physicians, she claims.
Nurses in the ICU, she alleges, were administering oxygen to patients without doctors orders.
Robinson’s most serious allegations claim Medicare fraud and illegal disclosure of patient health information.
“Ms. Robinson also reported an improper, and she believed illegal, disclosure of thousands of documents containing private medical information with identifying information of patients,” the suit states. “She had also reported Medicare fraud which she observed in her review of billing records.”
Despite her warnings to superiors, the alleged problems grew worse during the fall of 2022, the suit says. Robinson made a final attempt to alert administrators.
“In or around October of 2022, Ms. Robinson again reported that doctors were not filling out paperwork properly including authorizations or notations of treatment, including surgical notes, placing Kaweah’s patients at risk,” the suit states.
Robinson was fired by Kaweah Health on October 18, 2022.