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Several workers file lawsuits against Missoula County health center

Several workers file lawsuits against Missoula County health center

  • Updated

MISSOULA — The allegations sound like something out of the HBO movie “Horrible Bosses.”

People forced to clock out, and then continue working overtime without pay. Full-time staffers replaced with part-timers who don’t get benefits. A boss who screams and curses at employees. Workers so stressed out that they seek medical treatment for anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

In the movie, the disgruntled workers plotted to kill their bosses. At Partnership Health Center in Missoula, they sued.

All those conditions and more are alleged in the half-dozen lawsuits filed against Missoula County by a physician, dentist, pharmacist and other staff members at Partnership, people making anywhere from $12.36 an hour to $114,000 a year.

Partnership’s medical and dental clinic, which employs 120 people and serves the uninsured and underinsured, is a division of the Missoula City-County Health Department. Ellen Leahy, the department’s director, said she couldn’t comment specifically on the lawsuits.

“We take our work culture pretty seriously. I think we’re very supportive in general,” she said.

The suits say otherwise, specifically singling out Partnership’s executive director, Kim Mansch, as so harsh, vindictive and penny-pinching as to make working there intolerable.

One worker, dental practice manager Patricia Morgan, was given leave in January after her medical provider diagnosed work-related stress, according to her suit. She alleges that she was forced to work unpaid overtime and that Mansch placed on her “unreasonable and onerous expectations that cannot be met with current resources.”

Morgan’s lawsuit says that she came back from vacation last year to find she’d been stripped of her office, desk, phone, computer and other equipment. Morgan remains on administrative leave.

Others, however, have left Partnership – voluntarily or otherwise, according to the suits. Staff physician Alison Forney-Gorman’s lawsuit says she was notified last year that, despite favorable reviews, her contract would not be renewed.

Her suit accuses Mansch of “establishing a hostile work environment through a culture of fear and intimidation, through her management actions, targeting of specific employees from discrimination and termination, refusing to sign off on time-off requests, (and) using abusive and threatening language to employees.”

Lorraine Rowe-Conlan, a $55-an-hour staff pharmacist who worked 50 to 60 hours a week, was replaced in March with two part-time pharmacists and told she’d be called if there was work for her, according to her suit. She hasn’t been called.

“For over a year, Mansch has been threatening to fire everyone in the pharmacy so she could start over with new staff,” according to Rowe-Conlan’s suit.

Lisa Nelson, who worked as a $12.36-an-hour medical records coordinator, alleges that she saw her own job advertised and was told she didn’t have the qualifications to apply – but was required to train her replacement, who also lacked “the requisite training.”

Dentist Adam Jensen remains in his $110,000-a-year job but is trying to get out of his contract, alleging a culture of fear and intimidation. His suit describes Mansch “screaming at employees, yelling obscenities, calling employees derogatory names,” as well as “substandard staffing and resources well below the standard of care.”

Jensen has applied to the national Health Service Corps Loan Repayment program to breach his contract with Partnership.

And Shawnel Trenary, who made $12.82 an hour as a medical receptionist, said she was notified in November – while she was on vacation – that her position had been terminated.

All those filing suit cite emotional distress and seek compensation for it, as well as for lost wages, attorneys’ fees, “fair compensation for harm,” and – in the cases where that may apply – back overtime pay.

All the cases were filed by Great Falls attorney Elizabeth Best. Five of the six were filed earlier this month; Rowe-Conlan’s was filed in February.

Best could not be reached for comment last week. The Health Department’s Leahy said the county has not been served yet.

However, two of the cases remain in grievance procedures, she said.

“I have a lot of faith in our process for resolving issues when they’ve been brought to our attention,” Leahy said.

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