Woman sues DeTar, claims wrongful firing

William Blanchard

A woman claimed she was wrongfully fired by DeTar Hospital in retaliation for sexual harassment complaints she made against the company's assistant chief financial officer, according to a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Federal court.

Connie Smith, the plaintiff, claimed she was fired on April 19 for "job abandonment" after taking less than a day off from work to care for her terminally ill, cancer-stricken mother during a medical emergency.

In her lawsuit, Smith names the following people and entities in her lawsuit: DeTar Hospital of Victoria, Texas, L.P.; DeTar's chief executive officer William Blanchard; chief operating officer George Parsley; chief financial officer Donald Hogan; and assistant chief financial officer Laurence Bludau.

Judith Barefield, director of marketing for the DeTar Healthcare System, declined to comment on the lawsuit because she said the hospital had not yet been formally notified of it.

In the suit, Smith, who had worked for DeTar for more than a decade as an accountant, claimed all of DeTar's executives and director of human resources Kristina Elsik were aware of her mother's condition.

Two days before her firing, Smith received notice from Elsik about her Family Medical Leave Act rights, which included her right to have up to 15 days to provide a certification of her mother's serious health condition.

Despite giving notice via e-mail and phone messages that she had to leave, less than two hours after Smith left work, Blanchard told Parsley that he wanted to "make sure that we will not take Connie back as an employee of DeTar Healthcare System under any circumstances," according to the lawsuit.

Elsik warned the defendants that firing Smith during the 15-day compliance period was a violation of the family leave act, but they fired her anyway, according to the lawsuit.

The firing did not stop with Smith.

On Sept. 1, Elsik was fired, less than seven hours after she provided information to the Department of Labor investigator that was looking into Smith's family leave complaint.

The lawsuit alleges Smith was fired in retaliation for her complaint about Bludau's sexual harassment.

Among the sexually inappropriate behavior Smith alleged in the lawsuit includes Bludau showing her adult porn on his work computer against her will; telling her that "nice cleavage" would help her in a performance review; verbally guessing whether Smith was wearing red lingerie to work; inappropriate kissing; and telling Smith that he was 'her Daddy" in a sexual way.

The week before Smith was fired, Parsley nonchalantly investigated the complaints, but nothing came of it, according to the lawsuit.

Also during the investigation, Smith was still required to continue to report to Bludau, which is not common practice in these types of investigations.

DeTar executives told Elsik, who found the handling to be "troubling on multiple levels," they wanted Smith fired after she complained of Bludau's sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

Smith is suing for several types of damages including actual damages, which includes back-pay; liquidated damages; punitive damages; out-of-pocket damages; damages for mental anguish and injury to character or reputation; court costs and attorney's fees.

Houston-based attorney Mark Oberti is representing Smith.

"We stand by everything asserted in the complaint by 100 percent," said Oberti. "We're looking forward to vindicating her rights through the judicial system."