WhidbeyHealth settles $1.9M in lawsuits

WhidbeyHealth leaders have settled about $1.9 million in lawsuits over the last year or so.

WhidbeyHealth leaders have settled about $1.9 million in lawsuits over the last year or so, following a series of employment-related state and federal claims filed against the public hospital district in 2019 and 2020.

The largest settlement was with Dr. Melissa Chinn, an obstetrician-gynecologist who formerly worked at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center. She filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2020 claiming discrimination based on her gender and national origin.

The claim stated that Chinn discovered she had been paid less than male employees doing substantially equal work. She alleged a pattern of nurses, staff and medical providers refusing to follow her directives about patient care while the male, non-Asian doctors were listened to and not undermined; other female providers suffered similar treatment, the complaint states. Chinn claimed she was subjected to overtly racist comments and even had to listen to a colleague’s “diatribes” about Asians and World War II while they were in the operating room.

On Jan. 19, former CEO Ron Telles signed a settlement agreement with Chinn in which she received $1.225 million for compensatory damages and attorney fees and $525,000 for wage losses.

Hospital Attorney Jake Kempton said the hospital’s liability insurance covers such settlements. The hospital did not admit wrongdoing in the settlements.

Last November, the hospital settled a lawsuit with former midwife Morghan Milagrosa for $83,000 in compensatory damages and about $42,000 in attorney fees. She had been fired from the hospital after making repeated complaints about staff commenting on her sexual orientation and for reporting nurses for allegedly inappropriately intervening in patient care, according to her complaint.

Malpractice lawsuits have been less common in recent years.

Kempton said a lawsuit with attorney Tom Pacher was settled for $87,000. Pacher filed a lawsuit in 2019, claiming he was rendered legally blind in one eye because a doctor at a WhidbeyHealth clinic misdiagnosed his eye disorder.

Kempton said the hospital successfully defended a lawsuit from former hospital registered nurse David Sharpe, who claimed unlawful termination and other issues. The case was dismissed in state court and Sharpe refiled in federal court, where it was again dismissed, but with sanctions against Sharpe, Kempton said.

A lawsuit filed by Mary Beth Williams, a former health unit coordinator, is still ongoing. She claimed retaliation, negligent infliction or emotional distress, negligent supervision and negligent retention of unfit employees.

In 2019, the hospital settled an age discrimination lawsuit for $1.5 million after a surgeon in his 70s wasn’t hired as well as a related public records lawsuit for $38,000.