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Jackson County jury awards nurse $350,000 after retaliation claim against St. Luke’s

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Julie Denesha
/
KCUR
Glenda Blackburn, now 68, managed a primary care practice in the Northland for Saint Luke’s until she left in May 2017. She says the hospital system retaliated against her for raising discrimination concerns.

The jury found that St. Luke's unfairly punished Glenda Blackburn after she complained about a younger nurse assaulting an older female nurse supervisor.

A Jackson County jury has awarded $350,000 to a former Saint Luke’s Health System nurse after finding the hospital network retaliated against her for raising concerns about age and sex discrimination.

Glenda Blackburn, now 68, managed a primary care practice in the Northland for Saint Luke’s until she left in May 2017.

In her lawsuit, she said that she consistently received glowing performance reviews until a change of management in 2015. After that, she said management pushed to hire younger workers and started targeting older women employees.

She said her new supervisor asked her when she planned to retire and told her directly that she needed to think about taking a leave or retiring.

She said her performance scores were downgraded even as she was asked to take on additional work responsibilities.

Then, after she complained to Saint Luke’s about a younger nurse assaulting an older female nurse supervisor, she said her performance scores were massively downgraded and she was placed on an improvement plan. Six weeks later, she was given a final written warning, typically a prelude to termination.

Rather than wait to be terminated, Blackburn, who began working at Saint Luke’s in 2002, left after filing age discrimination complaints with Saint Luke’s and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.

The jury rejected her age discrimination claim, but found that Saint Luke’s had retaliated against her.

Blackburn’s lawyers, E.E. Keenan and Sonal Bhatia, said their client felt vindicated by the verdict.

“I think she feels that a wrong has been righted,” Keenan said. “I think this brings some closure to her.”

Keenan said he did not ask for a specific amount in damages, but the jury may have taken into account Blackburn’s claim for $240,000 in back pay and her claim for emotional distress over and above that.

In a statement, Saint Luke’s said it “respects and values all of our employees and strives to treat everyone with integrity and fairness.”

It said it felt “validated” that the jury rejected Blackburn’s age discrimination claim and “gratified” that the jury did not find Saint Luke’s acted with malice and found no cause to award punitive damages.

“We are currently evaluating our option to appeal,” Saint Luke's said.

Keenan and Bhatia also represented the nurse supervisor who said she was assaulted. She resigned several months before Blackburn and also sued Saint Luke’s for age discrimination, sex discrimination and retaliation. The parties resolved that case on confidential terms and it was dismissed last year.

Blackburn now works as an assistant manager at a women’s clothing retailer.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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