Crime & Courts

Woodstock nursing home says employee's firing didn't violate Whistleblower Act

Former employee filed suit alleging she was fired after reporting possible abuse of a resident

A lawsuit filed Nov. 30 in McHenry County court accuses employees at Hearthstone Communities, 920 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock, of violating the Illinois Whistleblower Act after Juana Walsh was fired for reporting abuse that a patient disclosed to her.
A lawsuit filed Nov. 30 in McHenry County court accuses employees at Hearthstone Communities, 920 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock, of violating the Illinois Whistleblower Act after Juana Walsh was fired for reporting abuse that a patient disclosed to her.

WOODSTOCK – The attorney for a Woodstock senior living center accused of retaliatory firing of an employee who reported possible abuse has asked a judge to dismiss allegations that the business violated the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

Juana Walsh, a former Hearthstone Communities employee, wasn’t protected by the Whistleblower Act because the alleged abuse was never reported to government officials, attorney Katherine Dempster wrote in a Jan. 9 motion to dismiss certain claims within the lawsuit.

According to the Illinois Whistleblower Act, an employer cannot retaliate against a worker who “discloses information in a court, an administrative hearing or before a legislative commission or committee, or in any other proceeding” where the employee believes he or she is reporting a violation of state or federal law.

“[Walsh] does not allege that she was retaliated against because she disclosed or attempted to disclose public corruption or wrongdoing,” the motion read. “Rather, [Walsh] alleges she was discharged for making an internal report of wrongdoing. Such activity does not constitute ‘disclosure’ under the IWA.”

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 30 in McHenry County court – exactly one year after Walsh was fired from her job at Hearthstone Communities, 920 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock.

Hearthstone houses more than 200 senior citizens and offers independent and assisted living, memory care and short-term stay rehabilitation services, according to the business’ website.

In the suit, Walsh said a male resident disclosed to her that a male nurse had been physically rough with him. Walsh reported the alleged abuse to both her supervisor and the company’s human resources director.

Walsh said she prepared a written statement of the man’s complaint and shared it with the resident’s brother upon request days later.

Hearthstone facility administrator Joni Fisher and former nursing director Patricia Birks accused Walsh of sharing a resident’s private information, and she was fired on the spot, the lawsuit stated.

Walsh has asked for the reinstatement of her job and the full fringe benefits and seniority rights it came with.

“She is simply not within the class of employees afforded protection by the IWA,” Dempster wrote in the January court filing.

Neither Dempster nor Walsh’s attorney, James Harrison, were available to comment on the other party’s claims.

Attorneys are expected to argue their positions in court April 27.

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