(LOS ANGELES) — A Los Angeles woman is suing an area hospital and her anesthesiologist for allegedly putting a mustache and stickers on her face during surgery as part of a prank that she claims violated her dignity and endangered her health.
The unidentified woman, who worked as a surgical supply purchaser at the hospital, said her coworkers affixed a fake mustache above her lip and yellow tear drops below her left eye before a nurse snapped a photo, according to the suit.
“Perhaps the most vulnerable position any human being will ever endure in their life is a time when they are placed under full anesthesia,” reads the lawsuit, which claims the woman was fully anesthetized rather than sedated “for the sole purpose of humiliating and embarrassing the patient.”
The woman said that she learned of the prank when she returned to work after the October 2011 surgery and was approached by some coworkers who had seen the photos. Other coworkers avoided her, she claims.
She filed suit against Dr. Patrick Yang of Torrance Memorial Medical Center on Aug. 15 in Los Angeles County Superior court.
A lawyer for Yang has not returned a request for comment.
Torrance Memorial acknowledged the mustache photo incident in a statement to ABC News, saying the prank was “intended to be humorous in nature.” And although the anesthesiologist and the nurse “demonstrated poor judgment,” the hospital maintains that most of the woman’s allegations are “factually inaccurate, grossly exaggerated or fabricated.”
“While the breach of professionalism outlined above regrettably did occur, Torrance Memorial is vigorously defending this lawsuit and requesting its dismissal,” the statement reads, stressing that anesthesiologist Yang and the patient were “friendly” and “had a good working relationship.”
The woman claims in the lawsuit that she was unable to return to work at the hospital because of “mental anguish” and “emotional and physical distress” prompted by the prank.
Beyond the “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” the wman is accusing Yang and the hospital of defamation, invasion of privacy, negligence and civil conspiracy as well as battery and sexual harassment for “placing obscene images on her face” and positioning her neck “so that they could keep her mouth open in order to make a crude sexual joke.”
She further claims that coworkers at the hospital “knowingly and willingly agreed and conspired among themselves to not self-report the true nature of this incident to the Department of Health” and failed to “impose sufficient discipline on its employees which would have prevented the further dissemination of photographs of plaintiff while she was under anesthesia.”
Torrance Memorial maintains that the anesthesiologist’s medical group “took appropriate corrective action to address his conduct,” and says the nurse was disciplined by the hospital.
“In addition, the medical center reported the situation to the Joint Commission and the American Nurses Credentialing Center, both of which investigated and closed the incident with no findings,” the hospital said in a statement.
“We take patient rights and privacy very seriously,” the statement reads. “After our internal investigation into the 2011 incident, we conducted additional training among the hospital’s staff about demonstrating professionalism at all times. We have taken substantial steps including privacy training to ensure patient rights are respected and protected for every patient in our hospital, even if that patient is a friend and colleague.”
The woman is seeking damages for emotional and physical distress resulting in depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and panic attacks, according to the lawsuit. She’s also seeking compensation for loss of earnings — past and future — and legal fees.
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