CONWAY — A former employee of a Conway-based medical facility claims that she was asked to violate both federal and state laws on multiple occasions regarding the implementation of safe HIV testing.
In a lawsuit, Dwane Heyward says reporting “discrimination, harassment, and a hostile work environment” in a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later resulted in her employer Careteam Plus firing her.
Heyward had worked with the defendant since Aug. 9, 2018, as a Prevention Coordinator, according to the lawsuit. Her primary position was to conduct and direct sexually transmitted infection education and to coordinate HIV testing, recruitment and outreach activities for identified population, or counseling test and referrals per South Carolina DHEC guidelines.
On Oct. 29, 2018, Heyward received a performance evaluation that met or exceeded in all categories, with her not receiving any discipline “up and until December 2019,” the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, on April 11, 2019, Heyward found an issue with Careteam Plus’s HCV (hepatitis C) testing, in that the proper controls were not being conducted. She “immediately” suspended all testing and informed her supervisor Johanna Haynes — also named as a defendant — that a corrective action report needed to be filed with DHEC, the suit said.
“Haynes refused to correct the report in violation of the policies and procedures of the State,” according to the filing.
In May 2019, Heyward was asked by Haynes if she had contacted bar owners “to conduct testing in local gay bars,” the lawsuit said. The bar owners “could not provide secure locations” so Heyward “determined that testing would not be conducted in bars.”
That failure to provide test results in a secure location was a violation of federal and state law, manufacturer’s protocols, and Careteam Plus’s policies and procedures — the suit said.
The filing claims that Heyward was asked to “conduct testing in local gay bars” on three more occasions in 2019 — Aug. 13, Oct. 10 and Oct. 28.
“The Plaintiff began to have issues in her employment when she refused to take part in illegal activities,” the lawsuit said.
On Oct. 28, 2019, Heyward contacted her human resources department and told them that Haynes was “spreading lies and gossip, creating and cultivating a toxic and racially hostile work environment,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said, on December 16, 2019, Heyward contacted the EEOC and notified her HR Director that she was filing a complaint with the EEOC.
Two days later, Heyward received a warning that she was “being insubordinate” — the filing said.
According to the lawsuit, Heyward was placed on administrative leave less than a month later — so an “investigation could be conducted by Haynes.”
One day later on Jan. 9, 2020, Heyward sent a formal complaint to the Careteam Plus board regarding harassment and retaliatory practices. At that time, the board was made aware that she had filed with the EEOC, according to the lawsuit.
That complaint led to new supervisors requesting an after-hours working meeting in an email quoted in the lawsuit.
Heyward wrote in the email that meeting during the company work hours “would work best for my protection, safety and level of comfortability.”
The filing said that after the email, there was a letter of termination dated Jan. 31, 2020, but Heyward did not receive it until Feb. 3, 2020.
According to the lawsuit, the letter “set forth false information and pretextual reasons” for her firing. It also said that Heyward’s health insurance and benefits would be in place until Feb. 28, 2020.
Those were canceled on Feb. 5, in violation of her employment agreement — the suit said.
In the lawsuit, Heyward said that she applied for unemployment benefits with the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce after her termination and was approved for benefits, with them finding that “she was not terminated for cause or any wrongdoing on her part.”
“As a result of Defendant’s actions, Plaintiff has suffered irreparable injuries, including but not limited to loss of pay, benefits and other economic losses, emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, personal indignity, and other intangible injuries for all of which she should be compensated,” the suit said.
In response to the lawsuit, Johanna Haynes, CEO of Careteam Plus Family Health and Specialty Care said, “For more than 25 years Careteam+ has been helping patients access healthcare services, when and where they need it, regardless of their ability to pay. I am proud of our team’s exceptional passion for the people we serve in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties. I am aware that a former employee has made allegations in a recent lawsuit, however, the existence of a legal action prevents me from directly responding to those allegations at this time. I can tell you, however, that we will vigorously defend Careteam+ and the decisions made by our team, as well as our long-standing reputation for operating a trusted and valued health care practice in South Carolina.”