Sutter collects apology—and $6 million
Sutter Health’s long legal battle with a labor union has ended with an expensive bill for the union.
Unite Here, which represents hospital housekeepers, has agreed to pay Sutter Health $6 million for conducting a smear campaign about the cleanliness of the Sacramento, Calif.-based hospital chain’s maternity wards and birthing centers.
Unite Here also has formally apologized for sending disparaging postcards to potential patients, which warned that the laundry service used by Sutter Health “does not ensure that ‘clean’ linens are free of blood, feces and harmful pathogens.” The postcard had an image of a newborn wrapped in a blanket.
The settlement concludes a legal case that began in 2005, when Unite Here was in a labor dispute with Angelica Textile Services, which provides linen services to Sutter Health and other Northern California hospitals. Unite Here sent the postcards to women of childbearing age living in communities near Sutter Health hospitals and birthing centers.
Sutter Health sued Unite Here for making false accusations and defaming the not-for-profit health system.
In 2006, a jury sided with Sutter Health and ordered Unite Here to pay nearly $17.3 million in damages. Unite Here won an appeal because of a court error on jury instructions. The $6 million fine and apology were decided by mediation.
“Although long overdue, the union’s apology finally puts this incident behind us,” Geraldine Brinton, board chair of Sutter Health, said in a statement. “Using scare tactics for political purposes is shameful. The postcard hurt patients and deceived communities about the dedication of our hospitals to delivering high-quality care.” The mailing sent out by Unite Here targeted women of childbearing age who lived near Sutter facilities.