Red Deer lawyer Kelsey Lavery, right, and her client Sherri Galloway look over the court documents outlining the judge’s ruling in their favour. (Lisa Joy/Black Press)

Health care worker wins lawsuit for being wrongfully accused of accessing patient records

Judge rules there no evidence to back up the board’s claims and slams their actions

An east-central Alberta woman feels vindicated after winning a wrongful termination case against a medical centre society where she worked as a receptionist. The woman claimed she was terminated without just cause and publicly humiliated. Red Deer Judge Andreassen agreed and awarded her $25,600 in compensation.

The Consort and District Medical Centre Society, months after terminating Sherri Galloway, claimed she violated privacy laws by viewing confidential patient medical records. Judge Andreassen, however, not only ruled there was no evidence to back up the board’s claims but also slammed their actions.

“In effect the (board) publicly accused (Galloway) of distributing the confidential records of people from this tight-knit community, thus accusing (Galloway) of a whole new level of reprehensible behaviour,” said Judge Andreassen in his June 5 ruling on this civil matter in Red Deer provincial court.

This is a “marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”

“The conduct of the Defendant (the board) was deliberate, motivated by the search for evidence to criticize (Galloway) and vindicate (the board), took place over a lengthy period, and was known by (the board) to be deeply personal to (Galloway).”

Judge Andreassen said the conduct of Consort and District Medical Centre Society was “highly blameworthy, indicating a high amount of punitive damages were warranted and added, Galloway “was highly vulnerable.”

This came as a relief to Galloway who fought two years to prove she did nothing wrong,

“Hearing what the judge had to say, finally somebody heard what we were trying to fight for,” said Galloway. “I took pride in my job and (confidentiality) was a huge piece of my employment.”

Judge Andreassen awarded Galloway $15,000 in punitive damages and $10,600 in compensatory damages.

This “is not too high a figure for this small non-profit (board) to bear and is both symbolic and hopefully painful enough to carry denunciatory and deterrent effect,” he said.

The board suspended Galloway on Feb. 2, 2016. On Feb. 4, 2016, Galloway emailed the board asking for clarification of the reasons for her suspension. She didn’t receive a response. On Feb. 11 the board terminated her without cause.

On Aug. 5, 2016, the Consort and District Medical Centre Society board sent a letter to 51 patients in the Consort area claiming there were privacy breaches that “likely occurred” in January and February of 2016.

“The records contained confidential information and may have included your name, email address, home address, telephone number(s), date of birth, Alberta health care number, diagnostic, treatment and medical care information,” stated the board’s letter.

The letter went on to say that the potential breaches of privacy occurred as a result of two former clinic employees improperly accessing and reproducing confidential medical records, both electronically and physically, from the clinic. It added that the former employees were terminated from their employment and the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner informed about the alleged breach.

“The actions of these two ex-employees were only discovered as a result of a post-termination investigation carried out by the clinic, recently completed in June 2016,” said the letter.

Judge Andreassen said even though the clinic didn’t name the two employees he had no doubt that the recipients of the 51 letters knew who the employees were.

He called the board’s investigation “inept and unfair.”

Judge Andreassen said the board accused Galloway of accessing patient records but didn’t have evidence of her doing so. He added the board started the privacy investigation without any allegations of a privacy breach being made against Galloway or even any reason to suspect there were privacy breaches.

“The (board) made up its mind to look for cause for termination of (Galloway),” said Judge Andreassen.

The judge said the board “publicly accused (Galloway) of distributing records of people from this tight-knit community” and when they found out that their suspicion was wrong they did nothing to correct this misapprehension it created and circulated around Consort.

Being wrongfully humiliated in the tiny community she has lived her entire life took an enormous toll on Galloway.

“It was tough to go out and know eyes were on you even though you did nothing wrong,” she said in an interview in Stettler on Sept. 7. “Whenever someone was whispering, you assume it’s about you.”

She persevered, however, to clear her name and to hold the board responsible for their actions.

Pushing for accountability was huge.

“I’m very satisfied with the judge’s ruling. It was never about a dollar amount. I never set out for that. His words, that’s what I was happy to hear.”

Red Deer lawyer Kelsey Lavery said this was a unique and stand-alone case because the majority of the actions that make it to court are union nursing positions.

“I think I feel the same vindication that Sherri felt,” said Lavery. “We had gone through so much together.”

The judge “…listened and heard. We were trying so long for the truth to be heard and the truth to be determined. The truth is, Sherri didn’t do anything wrong. Sherri was doing her job and these allegations were false and we finally got that.”

The board had 30 days after the June 5 ruling to file an appeal but did not. At the time of the judge’s ruling in June, there was a new board for the Consort and District Medical Centre Society. Galloway said this helped ease her mind because the new board is taking steps to fix past issues.

The new Consort and District Medical Centre Society board chair Tony Owens declined comment.

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