Health Care

KU Hospital hit with sex discrimination claim as two other employment-related suits pending

A former cafeteria worker’s suit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination is the third federal employment-related suit pending against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority.
A former cafeteria worker’s suit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination is the third federal employment-related suit pending against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority.

Note: A previous version of this story used the name of the human resources employee cited in the lawsuit. That name was removed Thursday after Cornerstone Law Firm attorney Joshua Wunderlich contacted the Star and said the lawsuit had cited the wrong employee and he would be filing an amended complaint.

The University of Kansas Hospital Authority is facing a lawsuit from a former cafeteria worker who says the hospital’s human resources department took no action to stop sexual harassment by a co-worker. She says his actions began soon after she was hired and happened repeatedly until she quit six weeks later.

It’s one of three employment-related suits pending against KU Hospital in the wake of a high-profile whistleblower suit by another employee that has since been dropped.

KU Hospital spokesman Dennis McCullough released the following statement about the latest suit: “We deny the allegations. We trust in the judicial system and we’ll let it play out.”

The sex discrimination suit filed in federal court Tuesday says that Demi Trimble began working as a cook at the hospital in May 2016 and another cook, Lorenzo Thompson, began harassing her that same month.

One day when she had whipped cream on her apron, the complaint says Thompson implied she had been performing oral sex, asking her “What are you doing on your breaks? Are your knees sore?”

According to the complaint, Thompson also reached for Trimble’s name tag “approximately five times” over the course of several days on the pretext of checking her name even though he knew what it was. Each time he did so “he would also momentarily cup Plaintiff’s breast.”

On another occasion Thompson allegedly wrapped his arms around her waist and Trimble “reasonably believed that he was going to throw her to the floor.”

Trimble began hiding her name tag to avoid the harassment, the suit says, and told her immediate supervisor, Jenna Jordan, about it.

Jordan allegedly told Trimble she herself had been sexually harassed in the past, and that Trimble would be fired if she didn’t get back to work.

Trimble then told a human resources employee about what Thompson had been doing. The employee, the suit says, promised to address the issues within two weeks.

Trimble also reported the incidents to her superiors at Aramark, the hospital’s food services contractor, which is also named as a defendant in the suit.

About 10 days after those reports, the suit says, Thompson came up behind Trimble and “slowly slid his finger along the top of her pant line.”

Trimble went back to the human resources employee on or around June 15 to ask about the status of her complaints and the employee said the hospital had not been able to get witness statements. Trimble tried to put her mom on speakerphone during the meeting, at which point the suit says the employee “became very rude” and Trimble broke down in tears.

When she returned to work that day, one of her supervisors “reprimanded her for the way she was preparing salads,” according to the suit.

After working one final shift with Thompson on June 17, she resigned.

Trimble’s lawsuit is one of three open employment-related suits filed against KU Hospital by the Cornerstone Law Firm in Kansas City.

The firm is also handling a suit filed in May by a former nurse, Elizabeth Miquelon, who alleges she was retaliated against and ultimately fired in February 2016 after almost 20 years of employment because she used family medical leave.

Her suit is scheduled for mediation in November.

A suit filed in July by former medical assistant Kieanna Brooks alleges Brooks’ supervisor retaliated against her after she disclosed that she was pregnant and she was fired after she applied for family medical leave. Brooks’ suit says she was forced to work with patients who had shingles after she had requested not to because of the risks to her fetus.

KU Hospital’s lawyers denied Brooks’ allegations in a Sept. 7 court filing.

Joshua Wunderlich, an attorney with Cornerstone working the cases, said the firm’s policy is to not comment about pending litigation.

A pathologist at KU Hospital, Lowell Tilzer, filed suit in Wyandotte County last year alleging that the hospital’s top administrators retaliated against him after he reported to the Joint Commission a mistake by his department chairwoman that led to the unnecessary removal of a patient’s organ.

A review performed last year by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the hospital’s leaders didn’t adequately investigate a misread lab sample or ensure the patient involved was informed. Federal inspectors also determined that Tilzer’s department chairwoman, Meenakshi Singh, was not qualified for her position. She’s since been demoted.

Tilzer dropped his lawsuit after the patient, Shawnee resident Wendy Ann Berner, filed her own suit last month. Her suit is being handled by Kansas City, attorney Chad Beaver, who didn’t return a call requesting comment.

KU Hospital’s attorneys have filed documents disputing the allegations in Berner’s suit as well.

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso