A California court has thrown out part of a California Nurses Association lawsuit against Alta Bates Medical Center.
The CNA had filed a class-action suit against the Berkeley hospital in September 1994, alleging that Alta Bates' work redesign program constituted "unfair business practices" and "false advertising." It also claimed that an employee gag rule "restricts truthful public disclosure about the impact of hospital industry restructuring on patient-care standards."
The hospital had instructed employees not to give out any information to the news media but to refer all inquiries to the public relations department. A CNA member was fired after she talked to the media about a case of what she alleged was patient mistreatment. The hospital contended the nurse's actions compromised patient confidentiality.
The CNA alleged that the gag rule constituted an interference "through threats, intimidation and coercion" with nurses' obligation to act as patient advocates. The CNA further argued that the gag rule was based on the nurses' political views. As such, their freedom of speech should be protected by California's hate crimes statute.
Alta Bates argued that the hate crimes law was enacted to protect citizens from threats of violence arising from their race, color, religion, ancestry, sex or political affiliation. A nurses' obligation under law to act in a patient's behalf isn't one of those kinds of civil rights, it said, and no violence was threatened.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Sandra Margulies ruled for the hospital and dismissed the CNA's arguments concerning the gag rule. A trial date has yet to be set on the CNA's first two allegations.
The CNA recently withdrew from the American Nurses Association because it felt the national group was not aggressive enough in challenging the wave of hospital restructurings and work redesign programs.