Jury awards former Queen's nurse $3.8 million in lawsuit
Ellen Harris filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Queen's Medical Center, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation after she reported multiple patient safety issues..
Former Queen's Medical Center nurse, Ellen Harris was awarded more than $3.8 million in damages by a circuit court jury, on Wednesday.
"I'm just happy that a Hawaii jury saw the evidence and felt that what happened to me was wrong," she said.
Harris was a registered nurse at Queen's Medical Center between 2006 and 2011. She filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Queen's, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation after she reported multiple patient safety issues in the Medical Intensive Care Unit she worked in.
"It escalated to the point where she reports a nurse walking by a patient -- who is actually pulling out their ventilator tube-- and not doing anything and saying, 'Hey Ellen, your patients doing some crazy stuff.' She gets this the next day after making that report," said her attorney, Carl Varady, as he held up a copy of one of the notes his client received in 2011.
Harris says she had received two racist notes at work, one note had the 'N' word on it and another had a picture of hangman's noose.
"It was just kind of that fear after that, especially not knowing exactly who did it," she said.
Harris reported both incidents, and later requested the results of the investigation from Queen's, but says she never received it.
"No one said it was wrong. No one said this is not acceptable," she added.
Harris says she has asked for an apology from Queen's, but still hasn't received one.
"From start to finish Queen's never apologized, never admitted liability.. tried to degrade and criticize,"Varady said. "In closing argument yesterday, all they had to say about her was she's a liar don't believe her.. but the jury heard otherwise."
On Wednesday, the jury ruled in her favor. Harris was awarded $3.2 million in punitive damages, and another $630,000 dollars in general damages in the lawsuit against the Queen's Medical Center. Her attorney, Varady says to his knowledge it's one of the largest damage awards involving employment cases in state history.
"To hear a Hawaii jury say that was wrong .. That meant a lot to me.. more than anything," Harris said.
A spokesperson for Queen's Medical Center issued the following statement:
"We are very disappointed in today's verdict and will be filing an appeal. Because this is pending litigation, we will not comment further."
Varady says Harris was awarded more money for her shame and emotional distress than she had asked for.