For­mer VA nurse from Ohio set­tles sex­ual mis­con­duct suit

Plain­tiff says she wants case to help oth­ers in fu­ture.

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Eric Heisig

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.

Katz

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