BOZEMAN HEALTH FILE

Bozeman Health Deaconness Hospital is shown in this Chronicle file photo. 

A longtime Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital employee has accused the hospital of wrongfully firing her this summer and damaging her reputation.

Susan Connell filed a lawsuit in Gallatin County District Court on Dec. 5, accusing Bozeman Health supervisors of firing her out of retaliation and because of her age after roughly 10 months of unfair and inconsistent treatment.

Connell, who was 68 when she was fired in July, worked for 30 years in Bozeman Health’s obstetrics department, which cares for pregnant women and newborns. She spent the last 19 as department manager.

Jason Smith, Bozeman Health chief advancement officer, said the hospital is “refraining from commenting on the specifics” of what he called confidential human resources and legal matters.

“There are circumstances that arise for Bozeman Health and lots of health systems where we wish we could share additional detail beyond what we can,” Smith said, citing employees’ right to confidentiality.

He said Bozeman Health is focused on delivering exceptional care and “elevating the leadership abilities of our entire team.”

The health system has not yet filed a response to the complaint.

According to the complaint, Connell was “informed and believes” her salary and benefits tied to her longevity at the hospital, including retirement, played a role in her ousting.

The lawsuit says Connell appealed her dismissal, which hospital administration denied this past September.

The complaint also alleges hospital management spread false information about her “implicating that she was guilty of serious and scandalous wrongdoing” once she left that harmed her personal and professional reputation.

Connell oversaw the hospital’s labor and delivery, postpartum care, nursery and was largely responsible for administering the department’s payroll, according to the lawsuit.

Her workload intensified as deliveries increased from roughly 60 babies born in the hospital a month in 2000 to an average of 100 a month by 2007, which the complaint said has remained steady since.

Connell consistently asked for additional staffing that she saw smaller in-patient departments receive. Supervisors told Connell they were looking into getting her more help but that never happened, according to the lawsuit.

Despite the workload, Connell’s staff satisfaction scores from physicians and co-workers came in high each year, according to the lawsuit. She also received multiple honors, including an invitation to speak on “creating a thriving team” after she was voted state chairperson for American Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nursing, a nonprofit that promotes health for women and newborns.

Ten days before Connell was due to speak at the statewide conference, she received a "Step 1 intervention" on Sept. 6, 2018, from her supervisor for alleged “verbal actions” that “did not consistently foster interdepartmental collegiality.”

Representatives from each department cited in the warning said they were surprised that their working relationship with Connell had been called into question, according to the lawsuit.

Between her first warning and getting fired, the complaint alleges supervisors tried to intimidate Connell into resigning and asked questions like “how old are you, anyway” and what severance she would consider fair to part ways.

In December 2018, the complaint said Connell received an annual evaluation that rated her performance as exemplary, including addressing any conceivable concern about interdepartmental relations.

According to the complaint, her supervisor’s concluding remarks on the review said Connell “makes Bozeman Health [an] awesome place to work. She loves her work and staff loves her.”

The complaint alleges Connell became a “victim of retaliatory actions” for raising concerns over perceived safety issues around the construction of the hospital’s new women and children’s tower, among other things. That included an ongoing concern over an insufficient number of beds in her department for patients.

Connell received three more warnings before she was fired on July 9.

The complaint alleges an email captioned “Family Birth Center Leadership Change” sent to all staff the day after Connell was fired announced the hospital would look for two manager positions: one for the nursery and NICU, and one for labor and delivery and postpartum care.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. 

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