Erika L. Rexhouse has pleaded a “good faith, reasonable belief,” Westchester Supreme Court Justice Terry Jane Ruderman ruled on July 25, that alleged violations of patient confidentiality could have endangered patients.
Rexhouse, the former director of the Bronxville college’s wellness center, sued Concordia; its president John A. Nunes and his wife Monique; and other officials for $1 million in March. She claimed she was fired in retaliation for reporting violations of patient privacy rights by Monique Nunes.
In 2017, according to the lawsuit, John Nunes appointed his wife as senior director of student experience, making her Rexhouse’s boss. Rexhouse is a licensed clinical social worker; Monique Nunes has a master’s degree in human resources management but has never been licensed as a health care practitioner in New York.
Rexhouse claims that Monique Nunes tried at least a half-dozen times to obtain or disclose confidential information about students seeking treatment at the wellness center. In one incident, she allegedly entered a hospital exam room and tried to speak to a distraught student who had disclosed past sexual abuse to a counselor at the wellness center.
Rexhouse lodged a college whistleblower complaint last year. She was fired a few months later, in what she alleges was retaliation.
Her lawsuit cites two causes of action under state labor laws that prohibit retaliation for whistleblowing, and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Concordia asked the court to dismiss the claims.
Ruderman agreed with Concordia in her analysis of one of the labor laws, ruling that Rexhouse had failed to show that the alleged wrongdoing posed a substantial threat to the health or safety of the public-at-large.
But the second statute offers greater protections to health care employees, and Ruderman found in favor of Rexhouse. Disclosure of confidential patient information could present a significant threat to the health of a patient, the judge said. In a sexual abuse case, for instance, the patient could react in an extreme or dangerous manner.
Ruderman dismissed the emotional distress claim.
By invoking the whistleblower laws, Rexhouse had in effect waived her rights to sue for retaliation under other laws. Moreover, Ruderman said, citing previous rulings, an emotional distress claim must be based on “extreme and outrageous conduct” that goes “beyond all bounds of decency” and is “utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
Rexhouse’s allegations, Ruderman said, “fail to support such a claim.”