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Patient’s Bill of Rights Also Protects Employee From Firing

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In the absence of a detailed employment agreement spelling out the grounds for discharge, most employees can be fired for any reason at all. Sometimes, however, notions of public policy override the ability of an employer to discharge an employee.

Jane Hausman worked for the St. Croix Care Center, a nursing home in Prescott, Wisconsin. She was the director of social services and one member of a five-person team charged with seeing to it that St. Croix’ patients received proper care. Beginning in 1992, she and some of the other members of her team became concerned about that quality of care.

In internal memos, Ms. Hausman detailed what she thought were shortcomings in patient care at St. Croix: patients falling from bed, staff members failing to respond to cries for help, disrespectful treatment of patients, improper diets and a general failure to investigate injuries and possible mistreatment. Over the course of nearly a year, Ms. Hausman saw little change in the treatment of her patients.

In March of 1993, Ms. Hausman contacted the regional Ombudsman for nursing home care, and ultimately requested an external investigation. Three months later, St. Croix fired Ms. Hausman and one other staff member. Both brought suit to recover their jobs and to secure damages for what they contended was a wrongful discharge.

St. Croix turned the claim over to its insurance company, St. Paul Insurance. The insurer argued that the policy was intended to protect patients, and that even if an employee was wrongfully discharged it should not have to pay any of the damages.

Meanwhile, the nursing home itself argued that Ms. Hausman was an “at will” employee—that she could be discharged for any reason or for no reason at all. The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed, citing the public policy interest in protecting nursing home residents from neglect or abuse. Furthermore, ruled the court, Ms. Hausman had a duty imposed by her state social work license, and she could not be fired for discharging that duty.

Now the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has decided that Ms. Hausman can recover her damages from St. Croix’ insurance company. The policy covered anyone injured by St. Croix “interfering with the rights provided to a person by a patient’s bill of rights or any similar law,” and the court reasoned that a Wisconsin law prohibiting retaliation against employees for reporting neglect was a part of the patient’s bill of rights, even though it protected employees rather than patients. Not only did Ms. Hausman prevail against St. Croix, but her claim was also covered by the facility’s insurance. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. v. Hausman, October 5, 1999.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.