Long Beach Hospital and Contracted Psychiatric Unit Ordered to Pay $1.7 Million in Discrimination, Harassment Case

A Long Beach hospital and the former managers of one of its units were ordered to collectively pay $1.7 million in punitive damages in a case brought by three ex-employees who claimed they faced discrimination and harassment by an openly gay male nurse.

The jury at Los Angeles Superior Court deliberated for nearly three hours before reaching a verdict in a case brought against Community Hospital of Long Beach and Memorial Psychiatric Health Services.

A section of the hospital that treated mentally ill patients was formerly managed by MPHS, and was also the employer of registered nurse Keith Kohl, who directed the unit.

The plaintiffs, who were supervised by Kohl, claimed he flaunted his homosexuality, gave preferential treatment to homosexual males and had a contempt for women.

The verdict on Monday granted $1.5 million to Maurice Stamper, son of nursing assistant Lisa Harris, who was one of the three original plaintiffs. The death of Harris in September 2014 allowed her son to be later substituted into the case.

The panel also awarded a total of $100,000 each to licensed-vocational nurse Judy Alexander, a 58-year-old Anaheim resident, and 56-year-old registered nurse Johann Hellmannsberger, a resident of Fullerton.

On Friday, the jury awarded $1.4 million in compensatory damages to Alexander and Hellmannsberger each and $165,175 to Harris’ son.

The jury found true claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, failure to prevent harassment and discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, defamation and negligent supervision.

The panel also found that the plaintiffs were subjected to malice or oppression, triggering the second phase of trial regarding punitive damages.

Lawyers representing the hospital and MPHS had urged the jury to not award any punitive damages because the two entities have been operating at a deficit.

Before the verdict Monday, MPHS’s CFO Juliette Gabel testified that the company will be unable to pay the compensatory damages and that any further judgment would hamper its ability to continue assisting a foundation that helps provide medical assistance to Compton residents.

The hospital still owes the city of Long Beach more than $1 million stemming from a loan made to the facility, according to testimony from accountant Mark Evans, a former CHLB interim controller.

Attorneys for the hospital maintained that all three plaintiffs were fired in April 2009 for an incident in which they and other CHLB employees put a patient in mechanical restraints without a doctor’s order.

The defense lawyers accused the trio of failing to document the use of restraints in the patient’s chart—a violation of the hospital’s policy and state law. They also maintained the plaintiffs lied during an investigation of the incident and engaged in a cover-up.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2009.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.