Two Former Employees File Suit Against Yolo Hospice for Retaliatory Terminations


Yolo-HospiceBack in February, the Vanguard reported that the board and executive director of Yolo Hospice had laid off two long-term and respected employees in January. This week, former Yolo Hospice Director of Patient Care Services Jody Norton, and former Yolo Hospice Manager of Information Technology Piper Berge, have jointly filed a lawsuit against Yolo Hospice, Inc., its Executive Director Craig Dresang, Board of Directors President Tom Frankel, and Board of Directors member Emily Murdock, alleging that each was wrongfully terminated from her employment with Yolo Hospice and also was subjected to wrongful post-termination actions and defamation carried out by Mr. Dresang, Mr. Frankel, and Ms. Murdock.

Jody Norton, employed by Yolo Hospice for nearly twenty years and considered a pillar in the Yolo County hospice community, and Piper Berge, employed by Yolo Hospice for nearly five years, enjoyed successful and productive careers with Yolo Hospice until the fall of 2014.

In October 2014, Craig Dresang became Executive Director. Ms. Norton and Ms. Berge in their suit allege “that Dresang implemented marketing, personnel and volunteer reforms within Yolo Hospice, many of which potentially violated federal and/or California anti-enticement statutes, hospice regulations and/or HIPPA protections.”

In repeated efforts to protect Yolo Hospice and its clients, according to a press release, “Norton and Berge raised these issues with Dresang to no avail. Instead both were subjected to hostility, vitriol and retaliation for standing up to Dresang and not acting like ‘traditional’ female subordinates as Dresang expected.”

Ms. Norton alleges that she was wrongfully terminated by Yolo Hospice on January 14, 2015. Ms. Berge addressed the Yolo Hospice Board of Directors meeting on January 26, 2015, to complain about Jody Norton’s wrongful termination and about Craig Dresang’s mistreatment of other Yolo Hospice employees. Ms. Berge was then terminated by Mr. Dresang four days later, on January 30, 2015.

The women also allege that Yolo Hospice has engaged in a campaign to continue to defame, retaliate and intimidate them following their terminations, including making false and demeaning allegations regarding each woman’s termination, sharing of private personnel information with unauthorized persons, and that an agent of Yolo Hospice is suspected of threatening and intimidating their lawyer to prevent them from filing this lawsuit.

As the Vanguard reported in February, on January 14, 2015, Jody Norton was, in the words of some, “abruptly and unceremoniously fired” from Yolo Hospice by Director Craig Dresang, and was immediately escorted from the Yolo Hospice premises. The reason given in Jody’s termination letter was “I no longer have confidence in your abilities as Director of Patient Care Services.”

She was shocked and distressed by this termination, but when she asked for an explanation, none was forthcoming.

When Jody Norton later appealed to Board President Tom Frankel for intervention, Mr. Frankel informed her that the board does not involve itself in any personnel matters or issues, and that such actions are left solely to the discretion of the Executive Director. Mr. Frankel also informed her at that time that there is no appeal or review process for her termination of employment.

The Vanguard was told that on January 26, 2015, Bryan Norton, husband of Jody Norton, attempted to attend the monthly Yolo Hospice Board of Directors meeting with several other staff and volunteers, to ask the board for action/explanation in support of Jody Norton’s termination and a review of the process.

Mr. Norton was blocked from entry, and was told no one from the public was allowed in the board meeting – one source told the Vanguard this was in violation of their Employee Handbook. Bryan Norton was then told he must exit the premises; he was not allowed even to wait outside the meeting room to speak with staff members and volunteers after the meeting.

Piper Berge, the Information Technology Manager for Yolo Hospice for almost five years, was the spokesperson for the staff and volunteers in representing Jody Norton. With prior approval from Board President Tom Frankel, she was given five minutes at the beginning of the board meeting to speak.

Four days later, she was fired by Executive Director Craig Dresang. The letter sent via email contained no discussions, no performance issues, no warning. The reason given was similar to that in Ms. Norton’s termination letter – “I no longer have confidence in your abilities as Information Technology Manager.”

A month earlier, Ms. Berge had received an “above expectations” evaluation.

In February, Mr. Dresang sent a short statement to the Vanguard via email.

He indicated, “I’ve been squarely focused on Yolo Hospice’s core issues which are the outstanding care of our terminally ill patients and the compassionate support of their families.

“Contrary to your statement, Yolo Hospice has not laid off staff.  In fact, we are in an era of hiring credentialed clinicians and other professionals,” he stated. “Our 36-year history has always been marked by a culture of respect, dignity and integrity.”

He said, “We appreciate your inquiry about recent employment actions, however, because of well-established privacy rights we cannot publicly respond to confidential personnel issues.”

Hospice Board President Tom Frankel, a retired attorney in Yolo County, has served on the board for six years, three as president.

He reiterated to the Vanguard that what happened “has not been a board action.” However, the board backs the executive director 100 percent.

He told that the Vanguard that the board’s preference is not to have private personnel matters debated in the press. Several times he indicated that he could not comment on the specifics of these matters. He added, “I think that Yolo Hospice is a phenomenal organization.”

In addition to the wrongful termination, the suit alleges sex discrimination and sex harassment. Jody Norton and Piper Berge are each seeking damages for lost wages and benefits, emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages against Yolo Hospice for its malicious behavior during and subsequent to their terminations. They are represented by Davis attorneys Mary-Alice Coleman and Matthew Roberts of the Law Office of Mary-Alice Coleman.

The case was filed on July 8, 2015 at the Yolo Superior Court.


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Two Former Employees File Suit Against Yolo Hospice for Retaliatory Terminations”

    1. RCrevelli

      I am glad to know that Jody and Piper are using due process of the law to begin a legal suite against the NEW Director and Board of Yolo Hospice.

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