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The Villages
Friday, February 23, 2024

Care center manager sues Villages Health System for ‘discrimination’ over arthritis

A care center manager with arthritis is suing The Villages Health System for allegedly discriminating against her by demoting her, reducing her salary by $20,000, and attempting to strip her of “shares” she purchased in 2016.

Attorneys filed the lawsuit on December 1 in the fifth judicial circuit court for Sumter County on behalf of Deneal Sullivan, who is employed as a Care Center Manager at the Pinellas Care Center.

Deneal Sullivan works as a Care Center Manager at the Pinellas Care Center (Photo The Villages Health System website)
Deneal Sullivan works as a Care Center Manager at the Pinellas Care Center. (Photo: The Villages Health System website)

Sullivan claims that she began working as a care center manager for The Villages Health System in November 2013. In 2021, Sullivan says she was promoted to “Manager of Clinical Operations-Primary Care.”

According to the complaint, Sullivan has “excelled in her management” of “primary care units” since taking over her role.

“[Ms. Sullivan’s] performance has at all times been exemplary and her employee records are devoid of any discipline,” reads the lawsuit.

Sullivan says that in January 2023, she suffered a spontaneous “rupture of a tendon in her left hand” that prevented her from moving her pinky.

“A few weeks later, her finger tendon in the left hand also ruptured,” reads the complaint.

Sullivan claims the ruptures required surgery and says she advised her supervisor of her medical issues.

She says her supervisor, “who at the time had worked” for less than a year with TVHS, had “no nursing experience and relied heavily on” Sullivan to “maintain efficient function of primary care clinical operations.”

Sullivan says she got surgery on her hand on Feb. 16, 2023, and that her doctor recommended that she take “6 weeks off work to recover.”

She was “only allowed to take off 6 days,” according to the complaint.

Sullivan claims that despite being told by her doctor to recover, her supervisor “pressured” her to continue “to work from home to advance her ongoing projects.”

She claims her supervisor “retaliated against” her by removing her “from her leadership role in her initiative to develop an intake program to alleviate long wait times for clients to be able to see a primary care provider,” according to the complaint.

Sullivan claims she was pulled back into the project in late March 2023 after her supervisor was “overwhelmed and unable to execute the duties previously assigned.”

“Despite the retaliation, [Ms. Sullivan] offered to pilot the program and to train the new registered nurse,” reads the complaint.

On April 3, 2023, Sullivan claims her supervisor told her to “perform intake” instead of “finding and training a register nurse” to perform the task.

“This proposal was a clear demotion, as Ms. Sullivan would be stripped of managerial role and relegated to an entry level position,” reads the lawsuit.

On April 6, 2023, Sullivan claims she made her colleagues and supervisor aware of her RA diagnosis.

A week later, “on or about April 13, 2023,” Sullivan says that she was informed that she would “in fact be demoted to the intake nurse position.”

According to the complaint, the demotion came with a “$20,000 salary reduction, elimination of bonus earning potential amounting to an additional $10,000 potential reduction,” and a forfeiture of Sullivan’s shares in the company.

Sullivan claims she purchased $7,500 worth of shares from The Villages Health System in 2016 as part of a deal that was offered to her and other managers for “their exemplary performances and service.”

At the time, Sullivan says she questioned the share forfeiture and learned that “nothing in the shares agreement would compel forfeiture.”

“The threat was purely retaliatory,” reads the complaint.

In addition to the demotion, Sullivan alleges that she was told she would “possibly be required to work on weekends at the Saturday clinic.”

“In response to the anticipated demotion and threatened share forfeiture, [Ms. Sullivan] lodged complaints to Chief Operating Officer Braulio Vicente, who also falsely claimed that the shares agreement required that the owner of the shares be a current member of management,” reads a portion of the complaint.

In June 2023, Sullivan says she complained to her supervisor and to human resources that she was “being discriminated against based on her chronic condition and the severe symptoms of which rendered her disabled.”

She began another leave on June 17, 2023 and remains on leave “with a return date of early January 2024,” according to the complaint.

Sullivan says that, since going on leave, she has been “replaced as manager of clinical operations-primary care” She claims she has been advised that if she does not “return by then,” she will be “terminated.”

Sullivan is seeking more than $50,000 in a variety of damages, including front and back pay, compensatory, punitive, and all other “damages available under the Florida Civil Rights Act,” according to the complaint.

According to Sumter County court records, The Villages Health System has been served a summons in the case. No other activity has been noted on the docket.

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