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A federal judge “reluctantly” dismissed the lawsuit of a Kenyan healthcare worker who alleged racially-based employment discrimination because a technicality prevented the court from allowing her to sue.

“Plaintiff argues that it is unfair that she is unable to pursue her employment discrimination claims because she filed a previous action to obtain her employment file,” wrote U.S. District Judge William J. Martínez in a Sept. 4 ruling. “The undersigned agrees. The result here is harsh, and in a significant way it runs counter to the interest of justice.”

Martha Muthoni, an Aurora resident who emigrated from Kenya in 2013, alleged that Littleton Adventist Hospital, where she worked for four years as a respiratory therapist, violated the Civil Rights Act when it fired her. According to her version of events, Muthoni, who said she was the only person of color in her unit, asked to be moved from the nighttime to the day shift, only to be told the unit needed personnel to work nights. However, other therapists who reportedly requested the shift change were granted one.

In January 2018, Muthoni said she saw a white, male coworker asleep at work. Earlier she had asked for his help in handling patients on ventilators in her unit, saying that she was expected to oversee more machines than the state allowed. Muthoni took photos of the man and sent them to her manager. She wrote in her complaint that human resources investigated the coworker, but he countered with an allegation that Muthoni had sexually assaulted him.

Muthoni’s manager reportedly called her and ordered her not to come to work, and the hospital eventually fired her.

In April 2018, Muthoni’s lawyer sent a letter to Littleton Adventist Hospital requesting her personnel file. When the company did not produce it, Muthoni sued in Arapahoe County Court for $5,000. A judge dismissed the complaint, ruling that state law “unequivocally prohibits an employee or former employee from bringing a private suit arising out of an employer’s failure or refusal to permit an employee to inspect her personnel file.”

Now representing herself, Muthoni turned to federal court, only for Martínez to tell her that the law precluded her from litigating claims in U.S. District Court that she could have raised at the state level.

Muthoni’s prior counsel “should have been aware of the potential adverse consequences of not bringing all of Plaintiff’s claims in that single action,” Martínez observed.

The law firm that represented Muthoni in her Arapahoe County case did not immediately respond to a question about whether her attorney neglected to advise her of the consequences of their approach.

Attorneys for Littleton Adventist Hospital did not address the merits of her claim in their court filing, instead focusing on the procedural missteps. A spokesperson for Centura Health, which operates the hospital, said that the organization could not comment on confidential employment history or pending litigation.

“However, as noted in the court’s opinion, the former employee did present claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated them,” said communications adviser Kevin Massey. “The EEOC ‘was unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.’ ”

"I wasn't asking for much," Muthoni said on Wednesday, explaining she wanted the hospital to erase the disciplinary history from her file. "I'm just hoping for God to do a miracle. They have made my life a living hell."

If she were still working in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, "I would be very, very busy because they were intubating patients because they could not breathe on their own," she added.

Martínez concluded that “the Court must reluctantly dismiss Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.”

The case is Muthoni v. Littleton Adventist Hospital.

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