A former employee of Lifeline Systems has filed a whistleblower complaint against the Philips subsidiary, alleging the company retaliated against her for years and ultimately terminated her employment for voicing concerns that defective products were causing fires and killing customers.
Denise Rock, who was employed as a Lifeline Systems salesperson for several years, filed her complaint in U.S. District Court in Boston on August 1, claiming she was fired in June 2012 after filing discrimination charges with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the U.S. Equal Employee Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Ms. Rock’s allegations stretch back to 2007, when she learned from a Health Watch manager that a subscriber to Lifeline, a device that sends out alerts in the event of a medical emergency, died in a fire likely caused by a defective Lifeline device that overheated. The manager also said that six other subscribers had died in similar circumstances.
According to her lawsuit, “Ms. Rock discovered that there were problems with the transmitting devices … For a variety of reasons, the transmittal devices had (and may still have) a tendency to overheat, catch fire and cause the homes of elderly residents to be engulfed in fires.”
“On many occasions these fires have resulted in the deaths of the elderly subscribers,” the lawsuit states. “However, in many cases the cause of the fires was hidden by the fact that the home and the device had been destroyed by the fire.”
The lawsuit explains that Ms. Rock immediately reported these dangers to company attorneys, including the Ethics Officer at Phillips. However, the following month, the plaintiff was informed that she was effectively being demoted with a job change and loss of income.
The lawsuit alleges that despite being one of the top performers in the company, Ms. Rock received “unfairly low job skills ratings” and that the company continued to take “a number of actions” with the intent to “make her job as unpleasant as possible in the hope she would resign.”
Despite the alleged retaliation, Ms. Rock continued to direct upsetting reports of defective equipment causing deaths to company lawyers and executives until, she claims, she was placed on a “Performance Improvement Plan” in January 2012 and given “completely unrealistic and unattainable goals” designed to force her resignation or set her up for termination.
Two months later, she received a final warning for “supposedly unsatisfactory job performance,” her lawsuit states.
Ms. Rock’s complaint claims that she was fired in June 2012, six weeks after complaining to the MCAD and EEOC.
“Although retaliation against Ms. Rock for her whistleblowing was part of the reason for the unfair treatment to which she was being subjected, and for which her employment was terminated, discrimination against Ms. Rock due to her age and her gender are also a reason for the unfair treatment,” her lawsuit alleges. “Younger employees, male employees, and in particular younger female employees, were held to a less strict performance standard than Ms. Rock had been held to, as an older employee and a female.”