Suit: Therapist fired for helping child with cancer

A radiation therapist formerly employed by the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania claims she was wrongfully fired after trying to help a pediatric cancer patient get noticed by her favorite sports team.

Julianne Anttell, of Glenolden, named the Trustees of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

According to the complaint, the dispute arose as Anttell assisted a pediatric cancer patient, identified in court documents only as “S.B.,” complete radiation therapy.

The child and her family members wore Philadelphia Eagles football gear during the last treatment, when S.B.’s mother mentioned “how great it would be if the Eagles did something for her daughter,” the suit claims.

After Anttell agreed to help, S.B.’s mother allegedly provided her with a link to a Facebook page concerning her daughter and asked her to pass it along to the Eagles on the family’s behalf. Anttell said she did so “in an attempt to help a child with cancer.”

When Anttell returned to work in December 2013 following a brief medical leave, she was told she was suspended pending an investigation, according to the lawsuit. Anttell was then informed she was being fired for the “unauthorized disclosure of confidential patient information,” the suit alleges.

Anttell claims she obtained verbal permission from S.B.’s mother and that she never released any information about the patient that wasn’t already in the public domain via Facebook. In addition, when S.B.’s parents were contacted before Anttell’s termination, they offered to sign a retroactive written consent to the information’s release, the suit claims.

Still, according to Anttell, Penn denied her appeals of the firing and contested her application for unemployment benefits.

A full unemployment hearing determined that Anttell neither violated work rules nor released confidential health information without consent, the suit states. But, when a new prospective employer contacted Penn to check Anttell’s references, they were told she had been fired for violating patient privacy rules, the suit claims.

Anttell further alleges her firing was “an artifice” to permit her supervisor to “replace her with a therapist with whom he had a personal relationship.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Pennsylvania Health System said the organization does not comment on pending litigation.

Anttell, who is suing for wrongful termination, defamation of character and tortuous interference with a prospective business relationship, claims the ordeal caused her to suffer “severe and profound emotional distress,” as well as humiliation, anguish and loss of income. She’s asking for a judgment of more than $50,000, plus punitive damages and attorney’s fees. 

Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

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