Jurors: Dignity Health must pay $3.4 million to pharmacist fired amid DEA investigation

Dignity Health must pay $3.4 million to a Woodland Memorial Hospital pharmacist who claimed she was fired in 2015 .
Dignity Health must pay $3.4 million to a Woodland Memorial Hospital pharmacist who claimed she was fired in 2015 .

Dignity Health must pay $3.4 million to a Woodland Memorial Hospital pharmacist who claimed she was fired in 2015 after she refused to fudge the pharmacy’s pill totals while the Woodland hospital was the focus of state and federal probes over thousands of pills missing from its narcotics inventory.

Jurors handed down the verdict in favor of former outpatient pharmacy manager Mandy Kazminy on Thursday after a two-week trial in Woodland before Yolo Superior Court Judge Stephen Mock.

Yolo County jurors sent a strong message with the verdict, awarding more than $1 million in compensatory damages and another $2.4 million in punitive damages – a total attorney Lawrance Bohm said was roughly half of the Woodland hospital’s 2017 profit.

“The message is that Dignity Health doesn’t follow their own policies,” Bohm said. “The jury said they don’t follow their policies and it’s not going to be tolerated. They hit them hard.”

Dignity Health initially offered $25,000 to Kazminy before trial, Bohm said. Kazminy asked for $325,000. Dignity Health officials in a statement Thursday afternoon expressed disappointment with the Woodland verdict saying the health network will “continue to explore all legal options, including appeal.”

Dignity and Woodland Memorial were the focus of federal Drug Enforcement Agency and state Board of Pharmacy investigations after Dignity officials in April 2014 reported some 20,000 pills went missing from its outpatient pharmacy. Months later, in November 2014, Dignity hired Kazminy from department store retailer Target, where she oversaw more than 20 Bay Area pharmacy locations, to clean up the mess that caught authorities’ attention, but did not tell her of the ongoing investigation until after she was on the job, said Kazminy attorney Lawrance Bohm.

Kazminy quickly found the hospital pharmacy’s computer did not keep accurate counts of drugs on hand and began keeping a paper tally. When Kazminy complained to the hospital’s pharmacy director, attorneys alleged, she was told to change the drug counts so the electronic and paper records matched.

Kazminy refused the order and in December refused again days after state Board of Pharmacy officials came calling in December with a surprise inspection that found several unrelated violations. Kazminy was fined for the violations, though attorneys say, they happened before she was hired as pharmacy manager.

Attorneys said she complained to the hospital’s Chief Medical Office of the suspected fraud in the pharmacy.

Within weeks, her attorneys alleged at trial, the hospital’s pharmacy director began to build a file of Kazminy’s alleged wrongdoing; criticized her for going to higher-ups to ask for additional pharmacy staff and reportedly made disparaging comments about the pharmacist’s Iranian descent.

At one point, attorneys alleged, the pharmacy director told Kazminy that “Iranian women are miserable and aggressive. You Iranians think you can get away with things.”

By April 2015, Kazminy was fired, undone by what Dignity Health officials maintained were policy violations: improperly sharing password credentials with a former manager to access and approve employees’ payroll; and violating patient privacy while correcting a prescription filled in error.

But Kazminy showed other employees had committed the same violations and managed to keep their jobs, attorneys said, accusing Dignity Health of sacking the pharmacy manager because she wouldn’t commit fraud, because of her national origin and her complaints to hospital leaders.

In the end, Bohm said, “Dignity Health is a company that claims to be in support of human kindness, but when it comes to their own staff, they don’t follow their own teachings.”