Attorneys for Freeman Hospital claim former employee Charis Seaton accepted a settlement agreement and indicate Seaton's attorney is trying to weasel out of it. Ms. Seaton, a former Freeman Neosho employee, is suing for wrongful dismissal. The case had been scheduled to come to trial on June 1.
In documents filed Friday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Freeman attorney Dwight Douglas claims he received three telephone calls from Ms. Seaton's lawyer, Donna Kitchen of Joplin, on Jan. 29 between 7 and 8 p.m. "During the first telephone call, Ms. Kitchen asked me if defendants were interested in settling the case," Douglas wrote. Ms. Kitchen had made an offer to settle for $47,000 that had been rejected. At the time, Freeman had a counteroffer of $7,500 on the table.
During that conversation, Douglas told her he did not have the authority to approve a settlement. "A few minutes later, Ms. Kitchen called me for the second time," Douglas wrote. "Mrs. Kitchen asked, 'I want to know what you're going to pay to settle this case.' I explained to Ms. Kitchen that plaintiff's last demand was so far from defendant's offer of $7,500 that defendants had chosen not to respond."
Ms. Kitchen asked if Freeman's offer was still on the table. Douglas wrote, "I responded that it was not and that I did not have the authority to re-extend the offer." At that point, Ms. Kitchen asked if Freeman would cover Ms. Seaton's costs for depositions "I again responded that I did not have the authority to settle the matter."
At 8 p.m. Ms. Kitchen called Douglas for a third time. "She stated, 'We will take $7,500 to settle the case.' " Douglas said he would get back with her.
The next morning, at 9:26, Douglas e-mailed Freeman's acceptance of the settlement offer. "When I received no response to this e-mail, I called Ms. Kitchen at approximately 1 p.m. and left a voice mail for her. She immediately returned my call. Ms. Kitchen told me that she had not read her e-mails. She further stated that she assumed the offer was no longer outstanding since I did not respond to it on Sunday, January 29, 2006."
Ms. Kitchen e-mailed Douglas to let him know her client was not pleased with the agreement that had been drawn up since it "says nothing about expunging negative documents from her record. Nor does it say anything about her termination being changed to a resignation. I have told you all along that is very critical and important to her. My client is ready to move on, but not at the expense of her employment record.
"We have no settlement at this point."
In his e-mail response, Douglas said, "During our conversation on Sunday night, you made a firm offer to settle the case for $7,500. Not one word was said about her employment record or changes to her file. These were not a part of the settlement offer. These conditions cannot be obtained by your client even if she was successful in her suit. As I have said many times, your offer to settle was accepted and there were no special conditions.
"I am not responding to other discovery issues since the case is settled."
The checks have been issued and are being held by Freeman Accounting, according to court documents.
Freeman officials are asking the court to enforce the settlement.
Ms. Seaton, Joplin, was initially seeking more than $10 million from the hospital, claiming she was wrongfully fired. She said Freeman Neosho Chief Operating Officer Janice Walker violated criminal law by obtaining and disclosing patients' health information. The patients to whom Ms. Seaton is referring allegedly "were having sex with the Freeman Hospital physician who was under investigation for allegedly abusing drugs," according to the lawsuit. The petition also said Ms. Walker used Ms. Seaton's private medical records for her own gain.