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Fired UIHC employee protests dismissal

BY LUKE VOELZ | FEBRUARY 08, 2011 7:10 AM

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A local union filed a grievance Monday on behalf of a former University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics employee who was terminated for alleged improper access of the medical records of 13 hospitalized Hawkeye football players.

The employee — whose identity and department are being withheld — is one of five UIHC employees who officials accused of viewing the records on a hospital computer. Two employees were suspended for five days without pay; the remaining three were fired.

“[Our employees] know what the rules are and try to follow the rules,” John Stellmach, the president of the ASFCME Local 12, said about the roughly 5,000 UI employees his union represents. “We really feel for this lady. She’s been employed for long time and has never had any discipline. She deserves fair representation.”

The accusations followed the hospitalization of 13 football players on Jan. 24. The men suffered from rhabdomyolysis, a release of muscle fibers into the blood stream that can cause kidney damage. The illness apparently followed a particularly strenuous workout.

The employee who filed the grievance claimed she arrived on the records page through a computer malfunction and was only on the page for a few seconds.

Stellmach said he’s hopeful the employee will retain her position because of recent improvements in the ASFCME’s grievance-resolution process. The improvements began in July 2010 and have since allowed four terminated employees to return to their positions.

The employee filed the grievance through the local chapter of the AFSCME. A hearing will take place with UIHC officials — including the head and other senior members of her department as well as the director of employee labor relations — within 45 days, Stellmach said.

UI spokesman Tom Moore declined to comment on the grievance or speak about the university’s response.

If university officials disagree with the former employee’s claim, the involved parties will go before an impartial grievance panel. The panel would consist of a lawyer with the state Board of Regents, a UIHC administrator, and two non-local union staff members. The grievance panel’s findings will be considered a binding arbitration, which means its decision is final, Stellmach said.

He said he’s concerned the employee filing the grievance is being treated worse than the two employees who were suspended without pay.

“We hate to see someone who has been an employee for that long lose her job over a computer malfunction,” he said. “From what she has told us and what we’ve seen in investigation, she’s innocent. That’s why we’ll fight for her.”

The employee has been in the health-care service for 40 years, Stellmach said, and has worked at the UIHC for 25 years.

UI law Professor Randall Bezanson said it’s difficult to determine which side has the upper hand in cases involving employer policy violations. The employers in all cases are required to prove that privacy was breached, he said.

Stellmach remains confident in the employee’s innocence.

“Our people are not involved in this kind of stuff,” he said. “We and the University of Iowa teach them not do this.”


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