Lawrance Bohm Achieves $11,182,000 verdict!

The Bohm Law Group is proud to announce a jury verdict of $11,182,000 in Armstrong v. Life Care Centers of America. In December of 2023, Mr. Bohm and Ms. Ciarimboli achieved this verdict on behalf of Kathy Armstrong who blew the whistle on her employer for substandard care given to a patient. Ms. Armstrong was fired and defamed after she complained that the facility in which she worked provided negligent care to a patient. Here is the verdict report:

Verdict Report

Armstrong v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc.

Whistleblower Retaliation after Reporting Neglect of an Elder

Case: Armstrong v. Lifecare Centers of America, Inc.

Total Verdict:  $11,183,000

• Verdict 1: Wrongful Termination:  $161,000 wage loss, $500,000 non-economic harm.
• Verdict 2: Defamation: $500,000
• Verdict 3: Unpaid Overtime:  $22,000
• Verdict 4: Punitive Damages: $10,000,0000

An additional $100,000 will be added to the verdict due to prejudgment interest.

Plaintiff’s counsel will also seek an award of approximately $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.

Plaintiff’s Counsel:

Lawrance Bohm, Kelsey Ciarimboli, Jack Brouwer, Michael Noah Cowart – Bohm Law Group, Inc.

Mark Wagner – Wagner Legal Group, P.C.

Defendant’s counsel:

Jahmal Davis, Dorothy Lui, Samantha Botros – Hanson Bridgett, LLP


Riverside County Historic Courthouse, Department 1

Honorable Harold Hopp presiding

Trial Dates:

November 8, 2023 to November 17, 2023; November 29, 2023 to December 15, 2023

Case Summary:

Plaintiff Kathleen Armstrong, age 58, began working at a skilled nursing facility in Menifee, California in March 1997. At all times the skilled nursing facility was owned and operated by Lifecare Centers of America, Inc., (“LCCA”) headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee (not a typo).  LCCA was founded in 1970 and operates more than 200 skilled nursing facilities throughout 28 states, which included California. Each skilled nursing facility houses an average of 70 beds for patients, predominantly from the elder population (age 65 and older).

Until her termination on July 11, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong worked for LCCA for 21 years.  Nearly the majority ofher career was spent working as the Admissions Director of the Menifee facility.  The Admissions Director of each LCCA facility is responsible for marketing and admissions of elders into the facility.  As Admissions Director, Mrs. Armstrong was also responsible for providing tours of the facility and ensuring the facility was a good fit for residents based upon their care needs. The Admissions Director is frequently the first contact families have with the facility.   Mrs. Armstrong shared her office with two assistants who helped with potential resident tours, answering questions, and completing admissions related paperwork.  At all times during her employment, Mrs. Armstrong was regarded as an outstanding employee who represented “the gold standard” with regard to how an AdmissionsDepartment should be run at LCCA.  Mrs. Armstrong’s direct supervisor was Mr. Rodger Groves, the Executive Director of the facility who worked with Mrs. Armstrong as her boss for the last 13 years of her employment.

In May 2018, Mrs. Armstrong’s father, Frank Ward, required care in her facility after a fall in his home. Mrs. Armstrong was approved to admit her father into the facility for rehabilitation and general care.  During the course of his stay in the Menifee LCCA facility, Mrs. Armstrong discovered and reported to Mr. Groves that her father was left in a soiled diaper because there was not sufficient staff to assist Mr. Ward in using the toilet. Mrs. Armstrong also discovered and reported that her father’s dietary requirements were not met for several days leaving Mr. Ward malnourished.  Just days later, Mrs. Armstrong reported that she was not informed of a fall her father experienced in the facility even though she suspected a fall occurred and directly asked the care team if a fall occurred, which they initially denied.  After demanding “fall precautions” for her father, the facility provided some but not all safety precautions for a fall risk. Days later, Mrs. Armstrong complained that Mr. Ward experienced another fall, his sitter (a care team member assigned to watch Mr.  Ward) fell asleep while watching media on a mobile device. On June 3, 2018,less than a month after Mr. Ward’s admission, he became septic after aspirating chunks of hamburger meat into his lungs due to the facility’s failure to provide puréed food as required by Mr. Ward’s dietary orders. Mr. Ward was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he died hours later. The hospital doctor advised Mrs. Armstrong and her two sisters that the facility’s neglect caused the death of their father and that the matter would be reported to the California Department of Health.

The day Mrs. Armstrong’s father died, the facility asked Mrs. Armstrong to help complete required census reports. Mrs. Armstrong returned to the facility at 8 p.m. that night and worked until midnight. While on bereavement leave, the company again asked Mrs. Armstrong to come into complete required census reports. Mrs. Armstrong was also required to keep a cell phone with her during this time to answer any after-hours calls to the Admissions Department. Mrs. Armstrong performed all this work without complaint by her or the people she was helping. Historically, Mrs. Armstrong was told that any after-hours work on the phone was “part of the job” and that she would not be paid for that time. Mrs. Armstrong worked approximately 10 hours each week on her after hours phone. (This “after hours” work on the phone formed the basis of Mrs. Armstrong’s claim for unpaid overtime hours in this case.)

On June 25, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong returned to work at the facility after her bereavement leave. She was excited to get back to the job she loved and looked forward to the distraction and sense of accomplishment helping patients and families provided. Mrs. Armstrong’s first day back was uneventful as she caught up with the work that accumulated in her absence. By this time, Mrs. Armstrong and her siblings had decided to sue the facility for the negligent death of her father. While at work, Mrs. Armstrong asked the Director of Medical Records what steps she needed to take to obtain her father’s care related records for her attorney. Mrs. Armstrong was informed that her attorney needed to send a subpoena to get the records.

The next day, June 26, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong was in her office when her boss, Rodger Groves, stopped by to check on her.  Mr. Groves told Mrs. Armstrong he would be resigning in the near future. Mrs. Armstrong responded, “Well, I probably won’t be around much longer, when the company learns that my family and me are suing the facility.”  When Mr. Groves inquired why she felt that way, Mrs. Armstrong reported the incidents of June 3, 2018, that led to the death of Mr. Ward, including details of the negligent/incompetent care by the LCCA care team and the hospital’s intended report to the State. Mrs. Armstrong further added that her family also planned on making a report to the State. In addition, Mrs. Armstrong disclosed concerns about inadequate staffing, fraudulent government reporting, and mold in the facility.  In an attempt to assure Mrs. Armstrong that she was safe in making this disclosure, Mr. Groves told Mrs. Armstrong, “I’m the only person who would fire you here, and I’m not going to fire you.” No other comment was made by Mr. Groves in response to the information provided by Mrs. Armstrong.

Within minutes of this conversation with Mrs. Armstrong, Mr. Groves contacted his boss, Regional Director, Sam Magtanong. Mr. Groves defamed Mrs. Armstrong by falsely claiming Mrs. Armstrong stated that she could not do her job, she did not feel comfortable giving tours, and that she could not recommend the facility. Mr. Groves also falsely reported Mrs. Armstrong as stating, “the nurses are all incompetent”, “the nurses here don’t care,”  “the nurses here can’t even do their jobs.” Mr. Magtanong republished this false information to the Divisional Vice President, Matthew Ham, who at the time was in charge of all facilities in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. The false information was also published to the Corporate Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Kelly Falcon. Based on this information, LCCA claimed that it became concerned Mrs. Armstrong had a conflict of interest that “could” prevent her from performing her job.  No warning, conversation, or action was taken to advise Mrs. Armstrong of the company’s concern about her presumed potential conflict of interest.

On June 27, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong’s assistant, Marissa Martinez, falsely reported to Mr. Groves that she observed Mrs. Armstrong stealing confidential logs containing information about the care of her father and other residents who were in the facility at the same time.  Ms. Martinez falsely claimed Mrs. Armstrong folded up the logs and put them in her purse.  If true, this allegation would mean Mrs. Armstrong committed the crime of stealing confidential medical records pertaining to 58 different patients. At the time, Ms. Martinez was regarded as a dishonest employee with chronic poor performance, who Mrs. Armstrong was in the process of replacing.  Mr. Groves was the next-door neighbor of Ms. Martinez and a close family friend of her parents. Mr. Groves frequently referred to Ms. Martinez as a his “other daughter.”

Rather than asking Mrs. Armstrong about the allegation, LCCA managers including Mr. Groves, Mr. Magtanong, Mr. Ham, Ms. Falcon, and the Legal Department suspended Mrs. Armstrong.  At the time, Mrs. Armstrong was meeting with a wrongful death attorney about her father’s case. Mr. Groves approved this time off during their discussion on June 26. Upon her suspension, rumors immediately burned through the facility that Mrs. Armstrong stole patient records and violated medical privacy laws. Mrs. Armstrong only worked two-and-a-half days between the time she returned from bereavement to the time of her suspension.

While on suspension, Mrs. Armstrong was approached by a member of the housekeeping staff who told Mrs. Armstrong that the rumor in the facility was that she had been fired. As of this time, Mrs. Armstrong had been suspended for several days without any word regarding the specifics of why she was suspended or what next steps would entail.

Approximately one week after her suspension, on July 6, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong was called into an investigatory meeting where she was asked to turn in her after hours phone and building keys. During this meeting Mrs. Armstrong denied taking the forms. Following the meeting, Mr. Groves defamed Mrs. Armstrong again falsely claiming, once more, that Mrs. Armstrong stated she could not do her job because of her negative feelings about the facility killing her father.

On July 9, 2018, the company decided the allegations of stealing records could not be substantiated because multiple records unrelated to Mr. Ward were also missing from the facility. Further other witnesses present denied any wrongdoing by Mrs. Armstrong.  Mr. Groves’s “other daughter” was the only witness who claimed to see Mrs. Armstrong steal the records.  After the company determined the theft allegations could not be substantiated, it decided to fire Mrs. Armstrong anyway because of her alleged comments about refusing to do her job, as well as the comments she made criticizing the facility for the neglect of her father. Mr. Ham was identified as the “ultimate decision maker” in consultation with Ms. Falcon and the Legal Department. The company directed Mr. Groves to “document” his conversations with Mrs. Armstrong from June 26 and July 6 in a memorandum that was never provided to Mrs. Armstrong. That same day Mrs. Armstrong was asked to come to a meeting on July 11, 2018.

On July 11, 2018, Mrs. Armstrong was waiting in the lobby for her meeting with Mr. Groves. While waiting,a nurse assistant approached Mrs. Armstrong to say she was sorry Mrs. Armstrong had been fired.  Apparently, everyone in the facility knew Mrs. Armstrong was being fired except for Mrs. Armstrong.  Once called into the meeting, Mrs. Armstrong observed that Mr. Magtanong and Mr. Ham were present in addition to Mr. Groves. Two documents were on her bosses’ desk, one facing up and the other facing down. Mrs. Armstrong was informed that she was cleared of the medical privacy allegations, but the company was terminating her employment anyway because she allegedly was making comments throughout the facility that “could affect” morale and cause a loss in profits. Mrs. Armstrong was shown a termination form repeating the defamatory remarks initially communicated by Mr. Groves to his superiors. The termination form also noted “other associates” heard Mrs. Armstrong make similar statements. Mrs. Armstrong refused to sign the form, remarking, “That’s not what I said,” which Mr. Groves wrote onto the form.

After Mrs. Armstrong refused to sign the termination form, her managers then addressed the other paperwork on the desk which was turned over so that she could not see it. The company indicated that although she was fired, Mrs. Armstrong could choose to accept a severance. When Mrs. Armstrong asked if the severance would require her to dismiss her claims regarding her father’s death, she was told that it would.  Mrs. Armstrong responded, “Then I guess you will have to fire me.” Immediately in response, Mrs. Armstrong was told she was fired.  Mr. Groves then walked Mrs. Armstrong through the facility past her coworkers to clean out her desk and load up her car.

After her termination, Mrs. Armstrong did not obtain new employment until 2020 when she began working for a different skilled nursing facility. By 2023, Mrs. Armstrong’s new employer provided compensation in excess of the earnings she would have received from LCCA.

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