Geri Lee worked hard to be a model employee.
The nurse was recognized last year as one of her hospital’s “Superstars,” and her photo hung on the hospital’s “Wall of Fame.”
But Lee, 10 other nurses and five support staff members have been fired by the Washington Hospital Center for failing to make it in to work during the back-to-back snowstorms last month that buried the metropolitan D.C. area.
“I was devastated,” Lee told The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported Sunday that dozens of staff members faced internal investigations, and hospital President Harry J. Rider said in a letter sent to staff on Friday that he expected fewer than 20 people would be dismissed.
In the meantime, the nurses union, Nurses United of the National Capital Region, has filed a class-action grievance with the hospital. Lee is a member of the union’s contract negotiating team and has been a shop steward and a member of the union’s executive board. In January, she gave a deposition in a grievance filed by the union against the Hospital Center for firing nurses who had not taken flu vaccinations.
On Feb. 5, the D.C. area was pounded with more than two feet of snow that began falling that day and continued into the next, clogging roads, cutting power to hundreds of thousands of utility customers and shutting down the three major airports. The region was hit again on Feb. 9 with an additional 18 inches, shutting down the federal government for all but one day of that week.
Lee, who has worked in the Washington Hospital Center for 31 years, told Fox News that she got into her car at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5, the day the first storm hit, and tried to get to work for her 7 p.m. shift, but the roads were so bad, she couldn’t get from her home in Silver Spring, Maryland to the hospital, less than a mile from Howard University.
When she called the hospital, she said a manager told her, “If you refuse to come in, you will be held insubordinate.”
Lee didn’t make it to the hospital and was suspended indefinitely. On Feb. 11, she received a letter by certified mail telling her she had been fired for “grossly insubordinate.”
“Sadly, we did experience some issues with associates who did not show the same commitment as most of their co-workers to the community, our patients, and their fellow associates,” Rider wrote in the letter to employees.
The hospital also said rides were offered to workers having trouble getting in during the storm, but the union said the rides were not made available in time for staff to make their shifts. The union told The Post that about 250 of the hospital’s 1,600 nurses did not make it to work during the storms. A hospital spokeswoman told the newspaper that a total of 759 employees missed work the Monday after the first blizzard.
Stephen Frum, chief shop steward for Nurses United, told The Post the union was questioning the timing of the firings because the union was scheduled to begin negotiations with the hospital Monday on a new contract.
According to the hospital’s emergency policy, “Unscheduled absences and late arrivals occurring during a declared weather emergency are not counted when addressing attendance issues, nor are authorized early departures.”