Former VA nurse from Ohio settles sexual misconduct suit
Plaintiff says she wants case to help others in future.
The CLEVELAND, OHIO —
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to pay $161,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Cleveland VA nurse who alleged officials improperly handled sexual misconduct accusations before and after she made a formal complaint.
Annette Katz said nursing assistant MD Garrett’s harassment of her escalated, starting with sexually charged comments and culminating with an attempted sexual assault in a bathroom at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center on East Boulevard, according to a summary of the case written by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster.
Katz, who now works as a home health care nurse in Estero, Florida, described the settlement as a “relief ” during an phone interview Friday with her attorney Elisa Pizzino on the line.
“This is actually the start of my healing,” Katz, 54, said. “I don’t have to remember it anymore.”
Cleveland.com does not normally name the victims of sexual assault. However Katz said she wanted her name to appear in the story because she wants her case to be instructive for others in the same position, especially as more instances of sexual misconduct are made public nationally.
Katz, who worked at the VA from November 2011 to November 2014, said her supervisor witnessed Garrett’s behavior toward her and others. The supervisor told Garrett to stop but never took further action, according to court filings.
Katz said she wanted to say something but as a single mother she was fearful of losing her job.
Garrett pushed Katz into a bathroom and tried to force himself on her in March 2013, Polster wrote. Garrett was later indicted on felony charges, pleaded down to misdemeanors and was fired from the VA.
Katz was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and took leave from the VA from April 2013 to April 2014. She asked to be moved to a different location, as her doctor said her PTSD prevented her from returning to work until she was transferred.
She then filed sex discrimination and hostile work environment claims against the VA.
The claims were investigated, and the VA closed her case when it claimed it did not receive Katz’s medical documentation, Polster wrote.
Katz maintains she and her attorney provided all of the requested paperwork.
The VA also had one of its psychiatrists examine Katz, who determined in April 2014 that Katz could return to work without any restrictions.
Katz was offered a job on a different floor at the same campus but Katz failed to report to work and was eventually fired, Polster wrote.
During this time, at least 12 positions opened at other VA campuses for which Katz was qualified, according to court filings.
Katz filed suit in 2015. The lawsuit was litigated for three years.
Polster brokered the settlement and placed it on the docket Friday afternoon.
Cleveland VA spokeswoman Kristen Parker wrote in an email that the settlement amount includes attorneys’ fees and money for Katz.
“The case is from 2013 and many of the witnesses have retired, moved, or died,” Parker wrote. “The VA and US Attorney’s Office considered the costs of witness subpoenas and travel, time and expense of a jury trial, and accompanying attorney fees in determining the settlement.”
Pizzino she said the settlement includes a clause that disallows Katz to again seek employment in the VA.
Katz said she still feels ashamed and doesn’t know why. The process of making a complaint and the litigation exacerbated this feeling, though.
“A lot of the questions that came up were ‘why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you say something sooner?’, as if I did something wrong for not saying anything,” she said.
When asked whether she thought the situation would be treated differently, Katz said she did not think so.
Pizzino stressed several times after Katz made this statement that it’s hard to say whether it would happen again, as there have been personnel changes.
“I still think there’s a lot of women that were not ... and still are not able to come forward,” Katz said.