Carney Shegerian of Shegerian & Associates, Inc., a Santa Monica-based litigation law firm specializing in employee rights, obtained a more than $1.8 million wrongful termination and whistleblower retaliation jury verdict last Friday in favor of his client against defendants Passages Silver Strand LLC and Grasshopper House, LLC.

Friday’s verdict resulted in Cynthia Begazo being awarded $1,829,160 by a Los Angeles jury that found she had been retaliated against based upon her complaints of others being discriminated against due to disability, and also retaliated against by her supervising managers after she blew the whistle on what she considered to be suspected illegality in relation to a deceased patient found on the premises.

Begazo was employed by Passages, a drug and alcohol recovery treatment center based in Malibu, as director of human resources for about three months, from February of 2015 until May 6, 2015.

In her complaint, Begazo explained that in April of 2015, a male patient was found deceased in one of Passages’ patient rooms. Begazo said she then learned of unusual circumstances surrounding the patient’s death (that there was bag on the patient’s head and a trash can over his head, and scratch marks on his face and blood on the bed of the other patient in the room) and that the patient’s roommate inappropriately and insensitively took pictures of the deceased man and posted them on social media.

Begazo claimed to have asked if this information had all been revealed to the police and if there was a protocol for checking on patients and if any witness statements had been obtained from nurses regarding the patient’s death. Begazo said she reminded her supervisor that Passages are required by law to report the death to the Department of Health, the Joint Commission, and the liability carrier and that not doing so was illegal, to which she claims she was angrily told not to report anything.

Begazo claimed that after the patient’s death, she reviewed Passages’ employee files and discovered that the company had not provided mandatory training to the nurse on duty the night of the death. When Begazo brought this information to her supervisor the Chief Operating Officer, she claims she was told to “fix” the employee files. Begazo said she refused to change the files because that would be illegal and that the files were going to remain as they were on the date of the incident. Shortly thereafter, Begazo claimed her supervisor stopped talking to her, excluded her from employee-related meetings, and sent other employees to continue projects she was working on.

On May 6, 2015, Begazo was terminated from her employment. During trial, it was revealed that the Chief Operating Officer also demanded another employee to “fix” the employee files after Begazo’s termination.

In court last week, Shegerian was able to prove to the jury that such behavior had taken place and that Passages was clearly in violation of whistleblower and retaliation laws, resulting in a favorable verdict for Begazo.

“It’s been a great privilege to have had the opportunity to represent Cynthia Begazo,” said Shegerian. “She has a long history of being a hard working, ethical professional who was punished by an employer for refusing the break the law. She performed her position at Passages, however briefly, at an exemplary level prior to her termination. We hope that Passages, and other employers, have learned from this experience that it is illegal to retaliate against employees either due to disability or because they are considered whistleblowers.”

Case # BC595150


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