Whistleblower Case Settled In Randolph

By Mike Donoghue

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 07-07-2018 11:36 PM

Burlington — Gifford Medical Center has reached an out-of-court settlement with a former employee who asserted that she was fired after reporting sexual harassment in the workplace and improper patient care at the Randolph hospital, according to records in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Donna D. Ladka, of White River Junction, filed a lawsuit against the hospital under the state’s whistleblower protection laws and the U.S. Civil Rights Act in September, about two years after Gifford Medical Center fired her, court records show. Ladka said she had worked at the hospital for 15 years, including as a clinical manager, from July 2010 to July 2015.

Ladka, in her lawsuit, said she had previously reported that Dr. Richard W. Graham, a urologist, “engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior, witnessed by several employees, including frequently viewing pornography on defendant’s computers and displaying erotic literature in his office.”

The hospital tolerated Graham’s sexual harassment of Ladka and other employees, the lawsuit asserted.

Ladka said she also complained about patient care and practices, “including conduct she believed were unethical and dangerous based upon standard, accepted and prescribed medical practices as well as defendant’s policies and procedures,” the lawsuit said.

Ladka filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2014 “alleging and protesting sex discrimination/retaliation based upon her supervisor’s sexually inappropriate behavior, his deficient patient care and defendant’s retaliation against her for reporting her supervisor to the State of Vermont and cooperating with the state investigation into her supervisor’s conduct,” the lawsuit said.

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The EEOC issued a right to sue letter in 2017 on her claim of sexual harassment/discrimination, according to the lawsuit.

Woodstock lawyer Norman E. Watts, who represents Ladka, said the parties signed a confidentiality agreement about the terms of the settlement.

“The client is very pleased. I assume Gifford is pleased,” Watts told the Valley News in a phone interview.

The lawsuit had sought various payments, including back pay, lost wages and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees.

The hospital, in its written response to the lawsuit, maintained Ladka was dismissed for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Dan Bennett, Gifford’s president and CEO, did not respond to messages seeking comment about the settlement.

One of Gifford’s lawyers, Beth Rattigan of Downs Rachlin Martin, acknowledged the settlement, but said the confidentiality agreement precluded her from speaking about the case.

The parties had taken the lawsuit to an early neutral evaluator, Middlebury lawyer Michael Marks, who filed a notice in U.S. District Court that a settlement was reached.

Graham was not listed as a defendant, but he is mentioned by name throughout the six-page lawsuit Ladka filed against Gifford.

Graham, when reached by the Valley News, denied the claims that mentioned him in the lawsuit, including allegations of inadequate patient care.

Graham said he did later complete two courses as required by the Vermont Medical Practice Board. One involved medical documentation, and the other covered medical ethics and boundaries.

He also rejected the allegations that he showed or displayed inappropriate pictures or literature in the office. Graham said the alleged pornography was actually Fifty Shades of Grey, a popular romance novel from 2011 that was turned into a film.

The Randolph hospital, in its written response to the lawsuit, also denied allegations of substandard care by Graham. The hospital wrote it did provide “coaching and feedback to Dr. Graham to address concerns with documentation and communication.” Those concerns “did not result in a breach in standard of care,” the response noted.

The hospital also wrote it told Ladka she “did not have sufficient education or training to instruct a physician on surgical procedures and that it is her responsibility to follow the surgeon’s instruction.”

Ladka, in her lawsuit, reported Graham performed a surgical procedure while on a telephone conference call with an ear bug in one ear. She said that after the procedure, Graham left the room without consulting with the patient, “who was left uninformed about the results of the procedure,” the lawsuit said.

The hospital, in its written response, denied the incident happened, but did not elaborate.

Ladka said that once it became known that she was cooperating with the state investigation, Graham, as her supervisor, refused to speak to her and the hospital relegated her to secretarial work. The hospital began retaliating against her by alleging mistakes in patient care, the lawsuit said.

The hospital denied, in its written response, it retaliated against her.

The Vermont Medical Practice Board disciplined Graham following its investigation, which began in September 2014 and was resolved in January 2017, public records show.

Among the findings of fact, board investigators found instances when patient records from Graham “failed to meet the applicable standard of care.”

The Vermont Medical Practice Board also cited one example where there was missing information so that it was unclear the exact procedure Graham had performed on a patient, according to the stipulation signed by the doctor, his lawyer, the prosecutor and medical board.

In another case, Graham failed to document adequately a written informed consent from a patient before performing a surgical procedure, the stipulation noted. Also, Graham had “no clinical notes documenting a discussion with the patient about the procedure, the risks and benefits of the procedure, or alternative therapies/treatment,” the stipulation said.

The board concluded it was unacceptable for a doctor to inadequately document his treatment of patients and it could constitute “unsafe or unacceptable patient care.”

It also was unacceptable to fail to document proper informed consent before a surgical procedure, the board said in its conclusions of law. Graham opted to sign the stipulation instead of having a hearing to contest the allegations, the records show.

As part of his nine-page agreement, Graham paid a $2,000 administrative penalty to the state and was required to successfully complete two continuing medical education courses.

Valley News correspondent Mike Donoghue can be reached at vermontnewsfirst@gmail.com.