Fired executive accuses Connecticut hospital of age discrimination

A former Waterbury (Conn.) Hospital executive has filed a lawsuit against her ex-employer alleging she was fired for her age, according to court documents accessed by Becker's.

Kim Samele's complaint was filed Feb. 21 in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut under the provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.

The lawsuit, which lists Prospect Waterbury and Justin Lundbye, MD, as defendants, alleges the hospital posted her job on while she was on medical leave in late 2022 and then fired her. Ms. Samale says she was given pretextual reasons for her termination when age was a motivating factor in the decision. 

Dr. Lundbye was promoted to CEO of Waterbury Health, which includes Waterbury Hospital, in 2021 and is leaving the organization March 8 to become president of West Islip, N.Y.-based Good Samaritan Hospital. He is approximately 10 years younger than Ms. Samele, who was 62 years old when she was terminated in early 2023, according to the lawsuit.

Ms. Samele said Dr. Lundbye told her she was "old fashioned" in her thoughts, and she was warned by physicians that he wanted to replace her.

"In the fall of 2022, three doctors separately informed the plaintiff that defendant Lundbye disliked her and that she should be careful when interacting with him," the lawsuit states. "Two of the doctors further informed the plaintiff that defendant Lundbye wanted to replace her with someone younger and more attractive."

Ms. Samele said she was initially hired in 2020 as executive director, business development, and surgical services, and in 2022, her role was terminated, but she remained employed by moving to the recently vacated position of director of nursing, surgical services. In late 2022, she took medical leave, with a scheduled return-to-work date in early 2023, and noticed a job posting for her role while on medical leave. 

"She immediately sent an email to [Chief Medical Officer Greta] Boynton, [MD], [employee David] Schmidt and Lindsey Smith, HR Director, and asked, 'How can my current position be posted?'" the lawsuit states. 

"Six days later, Ms. Smith responded via email: '[t]he below role is the director, surgical services. Your role remains executive director [of the] surgical services line.' 

"On Jan. 15, 2023, the plaintiff confirmed her return-to-work date with the defendants. A few days before the plaintiff's scheduled return date, however, the defendants terminated her employment. Upon information and belief, the defendants replaced the plaintiff with a new hire and/or existing employees, all of whom are younger than plaintiff."

Waterbury Health shared the following statement with Becker's: "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on matters involving ongoing litigation."

Ms. Samele seeks damages including but not limited to an award of back pay, front pay and lost bonuses and/or benefits; interest on her economic losses; and attorney fees. 

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