Nurse Allegedly Fired For Warning About COVID-19 Masks

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (March 24, 2020, 10:40 PM EDT) -- A Chicago nurse has claimed she was fired for warning colleagues that masks provided by Northwestern Memorial Hospital were inadequate to protect against COVID-19, according to a suit filed in Illinois state court.

Lauri Mazurkiewicz said she was terminated on Thursday in retaliation for sending an email to colleagues and supervisors the previous day stating that N95 face masks — which filter out 95% of airborne particles — are safer and more effective than the masks that were being distributed by the hospital, according to a complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday.

The suit states that beginning in March, Mazurkiewicz was exposed to patients with the novel coronavirus and that she opted to use N95 masks that were in her possession instead of the less effective face masks that the hospital required its employees to wear. In addition, the nurse said Northwestern did not allow its staff to wear N95 masks.

Mazurkiewicz said she sent the email warning her coworkers about the ineffectiveness of the provided masks "for the purpose of promoting public health," and also stated that she would only wear an N95 mask.

"Plaintiff's email exposed defendant hospital's malfeasance," the complaint states.

The following day, Mazurkiewicz showed up to work wearing an N95 mask and was promptly fired, according to the suit.

She alleges that Northwestern terminated her employment to prevent her from speaking out about its malfeasance and in order to prevent her from informing coworkers that the provided face masks were unsafe.

Mazurkiewicz brings a claim of retaliation under Illinois' Whistleblower Act, as well as a claim of retaliatory discharge.

The suit also names as co-defendants Mazurkiewicz's supervisor, Bridget Wicherek, and the hospital's president, Jay Anderson.

"As Northwestern Medicine continues to respond to this unprecedented health care pandemic, the health and well-being of our patients, our staff and our employees is our highest priority," a spokesman for the hospital said in a statement to Law360. "We take these matters seriously, and we are currently reviewing the complaint."

An attorney for Mazurkiewicz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mazurkiewicz is represented by Blake W. Horwitz and Jeffrey C. Grossich of The Blake Horwitz Law Firm.

Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.

The case is Lauri Mazurkiewicz v. Northwestern Memorial Hospital et al., case number 2020-L-003511, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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