Utah Employment Law Letter - March 2012: Hostile Work Environment: Sraight from the heart: Nurse files claims over operation incident by Lance Rich


This case comes at you straight from the heart, literally. Read on to find out how a nurse attempted to turn an incident involving a piece of tissue flung during heart surgery into claims that her rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were violated and how the court surgically examined her claims.

The pericardium incident

Sonya Morris worked as a registered nurse for Memorial Health System, an entity maintained by the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. She eventually joined Memorial’s “Heart Team,” a group assigned to perform heart surgeries at the hospital.

Morris claims that Dr. Bryan Mahan, a surgeon on the Heart Team, made a number of demeaning comments to her. She also claims that he flicked her in the head with his finger on two separate occasions in the summer of 2008. In an incident later that summer, Mahan removed a piece of pericardium tissue surrounding a patient’s heart and threw it in Morris’ direction. Although he claims he intended to throw the tissue on the floor behind him, the tissue hit her on the leg. He then joked about completing “cultures” on the tissue. Morris was wearing scrubs, but she was not wearing reinforced protective gear that would have prevented body fluids from soaking through her clothing.

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