A nurse who was fired by Aspen Valley Hospital in 2016 is suing the institution in U.S. District Court, alleging her termination violated a federal labor law.
The Feb. 26 lawsuit by Michelle Maranzano says she filed a worker’s compensation claim after an intoxicated patient violently assaulted her on March 13, 2009. It’s unclear if this incident occurred in AVH’s emergency room. Maranzano’s attorney, Kate Beckman of Denver, did not return a message Wednesday, and Aspen police have no record of the incident.
AVH hired Maranzano, a Colorado Springs resident, in 2008 to a 13-week contract as a travel nurse. Her exemplary work record led to AVH twice extending her contract, the lawsuit says.
After being punched in the face, Maranzano suffered migraines, vertigo and other symptoms from a traumatic brain injury and a broken jaw.
In May 2009, AVH, fully aware of her health issues, hired Maranzano to be a full-time employee, the lawsuit says.
In 2014, she was assaulted again, “this time by a wildly out-of-control drunk female patient” who kicked Maranzano in the chest as she was trying to administer treatment, Beckman wrote. Aspen police arrested the woman for misdemeanor assault. She received a deferred sentence, and a lawsuit that Maranzano brought against her in Pitkin County District Court was settled last year.
Maranzano suffered whiplash and injuries to her wrist, neck and back, the lawsuit says, and she filed another worker’s compensation claim.
A doctor restricted her weight-lifting and -carrying limits and specifically told her to not lift 23-pound cardiac monitors. AVH allowed her to continue to work despite the restrictions and she was assisted in handling the monitors, the federal lawsuit says.
Maranzano in 2015 applied for two weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in order to care for her ill father and AVH approved it. In November of that year, she used another two weeks of FMLA leave to again care for her father. The next month, she was suddenly unable to turn her head as her neck locked up and became extremely painful, Beckman wrote.
Maranzano “received MRI scans and various medications, and was told to [take] three weeks off and follow up with an orthopedic surgeon on Dec. 31, 2015,” the lawsuit says. “Accordingly, the plaintiff was unable to report to work from Dec. 19, 2015, to Dec. 21, 2015.”
At AVH’s request, Maranzano filed another worker’s comp claim, but the hospital then allegedly switched her FMLA leave from that of caring for a sick parent to her personal condition and continued tracking the time against Maranzano’s FMLA allotment.
AVH’s employee leave coordinator told Maranzano that she was expected back at work on Jan. 8, 2016. Three days later, her doctor restricted her to lifting no more than 10 pounds.
According to the lawsuit, shortly afterward, the employee leave coordinator told her that AVH had a “newly determined” position that Maranzano could not meet the physical-demand requirements of her position because of the restrictions.
“This was the first time that the plaintiff’s weight restriction became a concern for the defendant,” the lawsuit says. “Throughout those years, despite her ongoing weight restrictions, the plaintiff was never provided with light or modified duties. Similarly, the plaintiff was never offered another position within the hospital that could have been better suited.”
After AVH allegedly failed to provide her with temporary modified duties, a return-to-work date based on modifications or allowed her to return with weight-lifting restrictions, Maranzano was fired on Feb. 26, 2016, for “failure to return to work.”
The lawsuit accuses AVH of violating the FMLA. Maranzano is seeking, among other things, back pay; reinstatement, or payment in lieu of that; pre- and post-judgment interest; and attorney fees and court costs.
AVH community relations director Jennifer Slaughter said Wednesday that the organization does not comment on ongoing litigation.