maintained that she only saw a "tap" on the head of the patient, she also admits that she was over 100 feet away from the incident and included in her report the damaging statements of others. Therefore, Stephens did not "minimize" the incident, at most she minimized what she herself was able to see.
Had Stephens not filed that initial report there may well have been no investigation, much less one which uncovered the testimony of Nurse Crider and Ward Clerk Miller. Stephens, in effect, got the ball rolling. It seems self-defeating to let that same ball come back to crush Stephens based only on the testimony of Miller, who did not come forward with any official statement at all for five months.
The sanction of firing Nurse Stephens, based upon the record before the Court, simply fails the 'Doesn't add up' test. The sanction is particularly harsh considering that the nursing assistant, Rex Knisley, who physically aided in the alleged abuse by holding the patient and blatantly lied about it to the disciplinary board, only received a 14-day suspension. Although the Court understands that some extra responsibility is due to Nurse Stephens because she was the Charge Nurse, the punishment in this case seems wholly disproportionate to the findings against the Plaintiff.
Left with such an inexplicably harsh sanction, the Court reviewed the record to see if there were any other possible factors that might explain the extreme sanction imposed. The administrative record shows that Nurse Stephens, who is a union vice-president and was an active union organizer at the time of this incident, may well have been someone management was desirous of terminating for her union activities. A.R. at 554 - 558. Dr. Gary Evans, a clinical psychologist on Nurse Stephens' ward testified that several months before the incident in this case, he was told to investigate Nurse Stephens with regard to another matter. After his report exonerated her conduct, he testified that he was pressured to change his conclusions and was told by a senior personnel officer, "You don't understand. We are going to fire Nurse Stephens and we need these results." A.R. at 557. Thus, there may be other reasons for the sanction imposed on Nurse Stephens which should be thoroughly explored.
Based upon its review of the record, this Court finds that Department's action in terminating Nurse Stephens was arbitrary and capricious and its decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, this Court will reverse the decision which the Department made concerning Nurse Stephens and will remand this case to the Secretary for a complete review of the record consistent with this opinion.
A separate Order accompanies this opinion.
United States District Court
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following court-provided text does not appear at this cite in 790 F. Supp. 29.
ORDER - May 4, 1992, Filed
Upon consideration of the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment, the oppositions thereto, and based upon a review of the entire record in the above-captioned matter it is this 1 day of May, 1992 hereby
ORDERED that the decision of the Defendants to terminate Nurse Stephen's employment is REVERSED and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that this case is REMANDED to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs for full reconsideration consistent with this Court's opinion.
United States District Court