A nurse at a Chicago-area hospital actively treating COVID-19 patients claims she was fired by the hospital in retaliation for warning staff that the surgical masks the hospital provided did not adequately protect against the coronavirus, and that the hospital was preventing staff from wearing more effective N95 masks.

Lauri Mazurkiewicz filed the lawsuit March 23 in Cook County Circuit Court, naming Northwestern Memorial Hospital as well as several hospital employees as defendants. According to her complaint, Mazurkiewicz emailed hospital employees and supervisors on March 18 that the surgical masks the hospital made available to staff were not effective at protecting them against the spread of COVID-19. The next day, Mazurkiewicz arrived at work wearing an N95 mask, and was told she had been laid off. Mazurkiewicz claims the hospital retaliated against her for warning staff about the safety of the surgical masks.

Both surgical masks and N95 masks, called N95 respirators, are personal protective equipment designed to protect wearers from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Surgical masks are loose-fitting, disposable devices that cover the mouth and nose. They come with or without a face shield for added protection. By design, the masks do not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs or sneezes.

N95 respirators are designed to fit very close to the face and provide very efficient filtration of airborne particles – at least 95% of very small test particles. These masks are commonly used in health care settings and are not recommended for the general public.

Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities.

Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.

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