A large, national labor union will pay Sutter Health $6 million and has formally apologized for sending false and disparaging postcards to consumers in numerous communities served by Sutter-affiliated hospitals and birthing centers.
The apology and payment concludes a nearly six year long legal case, which stemmed from a labor disagreement between Unite Here and Angelica Textile Services, a private company that provides laundry services to hospitals.
In his complete letter of apology, Unite Here President John Wilhelm acknowledged that the postcard mailed to consumers by the union was” offensive and in poor taste.”
“On behalf of UNITE HERE, I express our union’s sincerest apologies to Sutter Health and to its dedicated healthcare professionals for the postcard that was sent in 2005 to women residing in the Northern California communities served by Sutter Health affiliated hospitals. The current leadership of UNITE HERE considers the postcard to have been offensive and in poor taste. The individuals responsible for this publication have left our union. We assure you that the union has no intention of sending any such communication regarding Sutter Health or its affiliates in the future.” – John Wilhelm, president, Unite Here.
The multi-million-dollar payment from Unite Here will be invested by Sutter Health and its hospitals directly into advancing patient care. “Providing top quality care is our number-one priority,” said Gordon Hunt, M.D., senior vice-president and chief medical officer for Sutter Health. “These dollars will be reinvested right back into our communities to advance our mission.”
About the Lawsuit
In 2005, while embroiled in a labor disagreement with Angelica Textile Services, New York City-based Unite Here sent a postcard to women of child bearing age in multiple communities served by Sutter-affiliated hospitals and birthing centers. The mailer falsely suggested that Sutter Health hospitals used contaminated linens provided by Angelica.
Although dozens of Northern California hospitals used the company for laundry services, the mailer singled out Sutter-affiliated hospitals, falsely claiming: “You may be bringing home more than your baby if you deliver at a Sutter birthing center.” The postcard featured a photograph of a newborn.
Sutter Health hospitals filed suit, charging Unite Here with maliciously making false accusations to exploit the vulnerability of its intended audience and in the process defaming Sutter Health and its hospitals.
In July 2006, a Placer County jury found Unite Here acted with fraud, malice, or oppression, awarding Sutter Health and its plaintiff hospitals $17,292,850 in damages for harm to Sutter Health’s business and reputation. Unite Here later won an appeal because of a court error regarding jury instructions.
Given the costs and time associated with a retrial, Sutter Health participated in a mediation that ended the litigation and resolved the dispute.
“Although long overdue, the union’s apology finally puts this incident behind us,” said Geraldine Brinton, chair of Sutter Health’s Board of Directors. “Using scare tactics for political purposes is shameful. The postcard hurt patients and deceived communities about the dedication of our hospitals to delivering high-quality care.”
About Sutter Health
Serving patients and their families in more than 100 Northern California cities and towns, Sutter Health network doctors, not-for-profit hospitals and other health care service providers share resources and expertise to advance health care quality and access. The Sutter Medical Network includes many of California’s top-performing, highest quality physician organizations as measured annually by the Integrated Healthcare Association. Sutter-affiliated hospitals are regional leaders in cardiac care, women’s and children’s services, cancer care, orthopedics and advanced patient safety technology.