The trial in a lawsuit over alleged age discrimination in the firing of a Women’s and Children’s Hospital nurse who had worked at the hospital since 1996 began Tuesday in Boone County Circuit Court.
Cynthia Roberts, 64, filed the lawsuit against the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri and Christina Vollrath, Women’s and Children’s Hospital director of nursing services, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Matt Waterman, the hospital’s director of surgical services, and Pam Holliday, the manager of surgical services.
Roberts alleged that while she was working at Women’s and Children’s Post-Anesthetic Care Unit, Holliday, who was supervising her at the time, made multiple comments about her age.
Holliday allegedly asked Roberts her age when they first met in 2012, and upon hearing she had worked at the hospital since 1996, responded, “So you’re just getting your time in until retirement,” according to the lawsuit.
In 2013, Holliday allegedly said to two nurses in their 50s, “This is what happens when old nurses are in charge,” after a crash cart in the PACU was found to be inadequately supplied, the lawsuit said.
On another occasion in May 2014, Holliday allegedly told Roberts she was the only nurse in the PACU that they’d received complaints about, saying, “You know, we don’t have any trouble with the younger nurses in the PACU, just the older ones,” according to the lawsuit.
A meeting was held in the unit in April 2015 to address complaints by nursing staff that included “repeated use by Holliday of age discriminatory remarks,” according to the lawsuit. On May 7, 2015, Waterman fired Roberts. At the time she was 60 years old.
After Roberts filed a claim for age discrimination against the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri in June 2015, Vollrath filed a complaint with the State Board of Nursing regarding Roberts’ alleged conduct on May 5, 2015.
Cynthia Roberts’ attorney, Mark Roberts, said in his opening statement that she was “disciplined differently” and was the “oldest and highest paid RN in the PACU” at the time. The loss of her job inflicted Cynthia Roberts with “emotional damages” and she was forced to “withdraw money from her retirement plan,” he said.
Though Cynthia Roberts has “physical” and “personal issues,” he said there would’ve been a “two-year period where she would’ve been able to work.”
Joel Poole, who is representing the defendants along with Nick Beydler, said in his opening statement that Waterman’s termination of Cynthia Roberts came after a mother filed a complaint with the hospital.
While in a recovery room, the mother alleged she heard Cynthia Roberts “barking and upset that she had to take care of tangled cords left by someone else.” The mother also said in the complaint that Roberts was “hateful and rude to coworkers” and “didn’t know the medical procedure her daughter had received.”
Poole said there were other complaints made over a three-year period by children’s parents and one adult patient that Cynthia Roberts allegedly displayed inappropriate “attitude, language and behavior.” She had also been written up by three other supervisors, and in February 2015, she was suspended for responding late while she was on-call, Poole said.
The trial was expected to continue through Thursday.
Supervising editor is Olivia Garrett.