• Paul Peter Nicolai

EMTALA Whistleblower Analysis Clarified

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

A registered nurse claimed she was terminated in retaliation for her reporting an EMTALA violation in violation of the EMTALA whistleblower protections. Her claim was based on the emergency department’s decision to discharge a pregnant patient who presented with discomfort, pain, and bleeding and to instruct the patient to go to another hospital to see a gynecologist. Even though the employer investigation determined that the discharge was a potential EMTALA violation, it did not have a duty to report the violation. In conversations with management, the employee had insisted that EMTALA required self-reporting. The court ruled her actions were not protected.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT…The appellate decision in this case lays out how these cases will be analyzed. First, the court ruled that an actual report to an agency was not required to trigger EMTALA whistleblower protections. There was no protection in this case because her report to management did not inform or notify management of anything regarding the discharge that was not already known. Therefore, it was not a “report” as required by EMTALA and not protected activity. The court also ruled that . where there is no direct evidence of retaliation, courts will apply the same burden-shifting analysis used in discrimination cases.

EMTALA is a federal law designed to prevent hospital emergency rooms from refusing to offer emergency room treatment to indigent patients who lack medical insurance or transferring them to other medical facilities before their emergency medical condition is stabilized. It contains a whistleblower provision.

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