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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Former health plan employees sue for wrongful termination

The Ventura County Medi-Cal system is facing a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by two former employees of the Gold Coast Health Plan. The lawsuit alleges an antagonistic work environment where financial mismanagement, harassment and retaliation were widespread. Among other things, the lawsuit claims accounting errors left up to $1 million in funds unaccounted for and that the former CEO maintained a $250,000 slush fund in order to avoid submitting payment requests to a governing commission.

The health plan has had a troubled past. Since it was established in 2011, there have been numerous concerns about the plan's solvency, errors in claims processing and high employee turnover. As a result of these issues, the state of California has required the plan to make several operational and financial changes.

The two former employees say they were fired in February after reporting financial improprieties and after bringing forward sexual harassment complaints made by other employees. The lawsuit also claims the two women were discriminated against on the basis of sex and age and were falsely accused of making racial slurs.

An employer generally does not need to state a reason for firing an employee. However, under both California and federal law, it is illegal to fire an employee in retaliation for reporting fraud or other illegal activities like discriminatory work conditions or a work environment rife with harassment. If there is evidence that an employee was fired for retaliatory reasons, the employee may pursue a claim for wrongful termination. If an employee has been discharged after reporting violations or for refusing to commit illegal acts, an experienced wrongful termination attorney can assist by reviewing the events leading to discharge to see if there is evidence of retaliation.

Source: Ventura County Star, "Former employees sue local Medi-Cal system, allege financial misconduct," Tom Kisken, Dec. 12, 2012

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