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Whistleblower wins discrimination award against VA

Posted: 4:18 PM, May 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-24 21:18:19-04
Diana Suter

TUCSON, Ariz. — A nearly five-year fight with the VA is nearing an end for a Tucson whistleblower.

Registered Nurse Diane Suter has just learned she's won a financial award in a discrimination case against the federal agency. It's the light at the end of a dark -- bumpy -- road.

"It's a horribly long road," she said. "And it was very expensive."

Suter has experienced first-hand what it takes to fight a federal bureaucracy like the Veteran's Administration. She had been years into the legal battle when she came forward to KGUN9 in 2016 during our Tucson VA investigation -- claiming a manager pressured her to falsify patient wait times.

"I told her that's not the way I was taught and she says, 'You do it my way, or the highway,'" Suter said in 2016.

That claim was confirmed by the Office of Inspector General.

She also accused the VA of discrimination and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Documents show Suter served as a nurse for 17 years, but she could no longer take on the heavy load and fast paced setting of a floor nurse -- 1,500 patients -- because of several disabilities.

"I was not able to do physically the work that it takes and the patient population there is very elderly," she said.

Suter believed the VA failed to reassign her -- to accommodate her -- according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Because I can't handle the type of work doesn't mean I couldn't handle nursing," she said.

She asked for a position in Home Based Patient Care, but the Tucson VA told her there were no openings that met her qualifications and limitations -- and then removed her from federal service.

The administrative judge ruled Suter had been a victim of discrimination.

"He found that I could still be a nurse and that they made no attempt to really accommodate me," she said.

The judge determined Suter is entitled to back pay, compensatory damages and attorney's fees -- though no amount is given.

Suter says she's had a lot of financial hardship, estimating $200,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, but she says the win was more than just monetary.

"The win will help me emotionally and physically because I feel finally I have been heard," Suter said.

And the long legal battle she's endured, she says, is all worth it.

"I want to let other nurses -- other VA employees who are in my position -- know that yes, you can sue the VA and win," she said.

Included in the judgement was a "Notice to Employees" of the violation, and EEOC findings, to be posted by the Tucson facility. The VA has 40 days to file an appeal.

We reached out to the Veteran's Administration on the subject and have not heard back.