Employee Prevails in Defamation Suit Against Current Employer

In an unusual decision, a jury has awarded an Ohio nurse $2 million in a defamation suit against her employer. Wayt v. Community Health Sys. Inc. (Ohio Ct. C.P. 2012).

Affinity Medical Center sent a complaint about its freshly terminated employee, registered nurse Ann Wayt, to the Ohio Board of Nursing after firing her for allegedly violating patient-care guidelines.

At the time of Wayt’s termination in 2012, she was a 24-year employee with a clean record. Wayt alleged that the timing of her termination—during a union organizing campaign—was not a coincidence, but was based on her union involvement. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) agreed, stating that she had a “spotless” record and that her termination was “a pretext to retaliate against her for union activity.” The Board ordered reinstatement with full pay and ordered the hospital to cease its efforts to have her nursing license revoked.

Despite being reinstated, Wayt filed a defamation lawsuit against the hospital based on its complaint to the nursing board, alleging that the hospital tarnished her professional reputation. A jury agreed and awarded her $800,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 in punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

The fact that she filed a defamation suit is unusual. Her victory could have repercussions for similar NLRB cases going forward.