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Nurse loses Doctors Hospital appeal

­Court of Appeal upholds decision that nurse committed ‘gross misconduct’
Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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A nurse who sought to sue Doctors Hospital for unfair dismissal after she was terminated for engaging in a heated argument in front of a patient who then became “disgruntled” has lost her appeal against her former employer for wrongful dismissal.

In the ruling by Justices Anita Allen, Stanley John and Neville Adderley, it was concluded that Doctors Hospital was “clearly entitled to summarily dismiss the appellant as her actions were repugnant to [Doctors Hospital’s] interests and were a fundamental breach of the employment contract”.

Allen said Eloise Shantel Curtis-Rolle’s appeal should be dismissed and “relief refused”.

Curtis-Rolle, a former permanent nurse who at the time of her termination had administrative responsibility for all nurses and other staff working in her unit, had appealed to the Industrial Tribunal for damages stemming from alleged wrongful dismissal in November 2008.  However, the Industrial Tribunal dismissed her application on June 20, 2012

In the written reasons given for supporting that decision, the justices of the Court of Appeal outlined the facts of the case as revolving around an incident in which Curtis-Rolle was said to have engaged in an “altercation” with another nurse in the presence of a patient who “appeared to be in a lot of pain”.

“During the altercation between the nurses, which was apparently quite acrimonious, the patient became disgusted, and went up to his room unaccompanied by any member of the nursing staff.

“The patient left the recovery room unaccompanied and was seen... outside the elevator, in his cap and gown holding an IV, which we understand to have been a total breach of procedure established by the respondent for the movement of patients within the hospital.”

A nursing supervisor, Erika Thompson, was said to have expressed the view that both nurses were guilty of “the gravest misconduct” for getting into such a dispute in front of the patient.

In her appeal to the Court of Appeal, Curtis-Rolle argued the Industrial Tribunal had “erred in law” in numerous ways when it dismissed her application for damages, including by not “applying the unfair dismissal test” to her case, by not “factoring in” a letter from the patient in question and by not acknowledging that the disgruntled patient “was never assigned to her”, among other factors.

According to the Court of Appeal’s ruling, before the Industrial Tribunal was a letter from the patient involved who said that Curtis-Rolle’s behavior had “nothing negative at all to do with my experience” and lamenting her termination.

The court noted that during the Industrial Tribunal review of the matter, the patient was asked if his statement was influenced by the fact that Curtis-Rolle’s “husband was a cousin of his wife”.

“However, on re-examination he readily admitted the reason he left the room was because of the argument” between the two nurses.

In her written reasons supporting a decision made in April 2013, Court of Appeal President Anita Allen said she was “satisfied” the Industrial Tribunal president had “taken into consideration all of the evidence before him” and “correctly concluded” that Curtis-Rolle had “committed gross misconduct”.  Justice Stanley John joined her in this opinion, while Justice Neville Adderley provided a separate opinion, but agreed with the other justices’ conclusion with respect to Curtis-Rolle.

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