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Life Care Center

A former nurse with Life Care Center on Ocean Boulevard in Coos Bay filed a lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court of Oregon’s Eugene Division claiming she endured sexual harassment and assault by a resident last year that administrators failed to address.

COOS BAY — Life Care Center of Coos Bay was served with papers on Friday, Nov. 30.

Now the center has 21 days to respond under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

This move is the next step in driving a lawsuit forward, which was filed in early November in the Eugene Division of the U.S. District Court of Oregon after a former nurse with the center alleged that she endured sexual harassment and assault from one of the facility’s residents back in 2017.

This nurse, who will remain unidentified at this time, alleged in the lawsuit that the center, which provides services for residents with dementia, failed to create a safe environment for patients and staff.

Representing the former nurse is attorney Meredith Holley with the Freedom Resource Center in Eugene. In an email to The World, she explained what options the center has in the next 21 days.

“It can admit or deny the allegations and it also has the option to present any defenses or counterclaims it might think are available,” she wrote. “If it believes there are any unclear statements in the complaint, it can file a motion to strike or a motion to make a more definite statement.”

Holley’s client has asked for compensation for her lost wages, her medical expenses, and the emotional harm she suffered.

These monetary damages cover events that occurred as a result of being sexually harassed and assaulted by one of the facility’s residents, who was known to be a problem.

As The World previously reported, in 2017 the center took on a resident who had a history of sexually harassing women in other facilities, as stated in the lawsuit. In fact, the resident’s family “removed his iPad to prevent Resident JH from viewing child pornography in the future,” the lawsuit read.

After multiple incidents between staff and the resident, the nurse suing Life Care said she began to have anxiety attacks.

During one incident, when she entered the resident’s room to give him medication, she found him “watching a low-quality video on his iPad,” the lawsuit read, adding that he began caressing her arms. She told him to stop, but “was holding his feeding tube and had been trained never to stop care for a resident in a way that might harm the resident."

The lawsuit said the resident went on to grab her and pull her closer, to which she said she told him “That is not okay. You need to stop right now!”

“Then, he put his hand on her buttocks,” the lawsuit said. “(The nurse) saw on his iPad that there were little girls running down a grassy hill, and she was afraid that he was watching child pornography.”

She finished treating the resident, went to a closet and cried.

After reporting the incident to the facility, then-Executive Director Jesse Winkler allegedly asked her, according to the lawsuit, “Did you tell him that your breasts aren’t for playing with and that it wasn’t appropriate?”

“(The nurse) told Executive Director Winkler that the incident had not involved her breasts and that she had told Resident JH to stop many times,” the lawsuit read.

After reporting the incident to the Coos Bay Police Department, the nurse suing Life Care said she checked herself into an inpatient care facility because she had started to experience suicidal thoughts. On May 16, 2017, the Nursing Board suspended her nursing license because of her hospitalization, which the nurse said was a direct result of her sexual assault.

Holley pointed out in her email that both Title VII and Oregon law limits the amount of damages a jury can award, but that there may be an argument on whether or not the jury in this case is restricted by those laws.

“The nurse has also asked the court to allow the jury to award punitive damages in recognition of the allegations that Life Care Center knew about the danger posed by the harassing resident and showed reckless disregard for the safety of staff and patients,” Holley wrote.

In this case, according to Holley, the maximum amount a jury could award is $590,000 for damages to the nurse and $1 million in punitive damages, the bulk of which would go to the state under Oregon law.

“Most importantly, though, plaintiffs like this go through the stress of coming forward because they want to make work environments safer for staff and patients,” Holley wrote. “When employers treat employees who report sexual harassment as though they are the problem, it fosters a dangerous environment. In those situations, employers like Life Care Centers stand to continue to lose employees and patients, which has tremendous cost in the long term.”

Holley told The World she is very selective in the cases she files in court because the focus of her business is to help employees stay in their jobs. It is also to work with their employers to “create safe, healthy working environments,” she said.

“This case is strong because it takes a special, brave employee to stand up for patient and staff safety the way this nurse has been willing to do, and I believe a jury will recognize the strength it has taken for her to come forward,” Holley wrote. “I believe that Oregon juries are ready to send the message that that tolerating sexual assault should never be required as part of a job.”

Life Care Center responded to The World's request for comment last month by asking for a list of questions, which was sent. The World has still not received a response since then.

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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