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Wright v. Shriners Hosp. for Crippled Children

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

October 7, 1991 ; April 16, 1992

No Number in Original

Opinion

 [*469]  [**1242]   In this case, which is here on direct appellate review, we consider the sufficiency of the evidence to warrant a jury's verdict of $ 100,000 in favor of the plaintiff,  [*470]  Anita Wright, against her employer, the defendant Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children (Shriners Hospital), on Wright's claim that Shriners Hospital wrongfully terminated her at-will employment in violation of public policy. We also consider the sufficiency of the evidence to warrant the jury's verdict of $ 50,000 against the defendant Salvatore Russo, the hospital administrator, for tortious interference with Wright's employment relationship with Shriners Hospital. We hold that the evidence was insufficient to warrant either verdict and that the trial judge should have allowed the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. We reverse the judgments for the plaintiff and remand this case to the Superior Court for the entry of judgments for the defendants.

 [***3]  We summarize the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Smith-Pfeffer v. Superintendent of the Walter E. Fernald State Sch., 404 Mass. 145, 146 (1989). Shriners Hospital hired Wright, a registered nurse, in 1976.  Subsequently, she became assistant director of nursing, and she held that position until she was discharged in late February of 1987. At all times, she was an employee at will. Wright received excellent evaluations throughout her employment, including an evaluation in December, 1986, two months before her discharge. In June, 1986, a former assistant head nurse wrote a letter to the director of clinical affairs for the Shriners national headquarters detailing her concerns about the medical staff and administration at Shriners Hospital. Shriners Hospital is a separate  [**1243]  corporation, but it is one of many Shriners facilities that are affiliated with the national headquarters. As a result of the letter, the national headquarters notified the defendant hospital administrator, Russo, that a survey team would visit Shriners Hospital in November, 1986. Russo was visibly upset. He spoke to the director of nursing [***4]  about the letter and asked her: "Are you behind this? Is Anita Wright behind this?" The director of nursing denied that she was responsible for the letter. She did not address the question whether Wright was "behind" the letter.

 [*471]  The survey team visited the hospital in November and interviewed Wright and other employees. Wright told the survey team that there were communication problems between the medical and nursing staffs. She detailed problems with the assistant chief of staff and gave specific examples of patient care problems. The survey team reported Wright's comments to the assistant chief of staff.

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412 Mass. 469 *; 589 N.E.2d 1241 **; 1992 Mass. LEXIS 227 ***; 7 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 553

ANITA WRIGHT v. SHRINERS HOSPITAL FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN & another 1

Prior History:  [***1]  CIVIL ACTION commenced in the Superior Court Department on July 1, 1988.

The case was tried before John C. Cratsley, J.

The Supreme Judicial Court granted a request for direct appellate review.

Disposition: So ordered.

CORE TERMS

terminated, patient care, public policy, team, at-will, fired, nurses, public policy exception, employees, public interest, patients, violate public policy, retaliation, regulation, cooperate, staff, medical staff, discharged, reporting, residents, neglect

Labor & Employment Law, Wrongful Termination, Whistleblower Protection Act, General Overview, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Vindictiveness, Employment Relationships, At Will Employment, Exceptions, Tort Exceptions, Public Policy Violations, Public Policy, Obstruction of Administration of Justice, Perjury, Remedies, Workers' Compensation & SSDI, Administrative Proceedings, Claims, Coverage, Actions Against Employers, Retaliatory Discharge Actions, Crimes Against Persons, Domestic Offenses, Public Health & Welfare Law, Social Services, Family Law, Family Protection & Welfare, Elderly Persons, Abuse, Endangerment & Neglect, Healthcare Law, Business Administration & Organization, Peer Review, Costs & Attorney Fees, Employment Issues, Retaliatory Discharge, Facility & Personnel Licensing, Torts, Contracts, Intentional Interference, Elements, Commercial Interference