A local former Planned Parenthood director was awarded $3 million in damages Aug. 16 after winning a wrongful termination suit after a two-week trial.
Mayra Rodriguez claimed in the suit she was wrongfully terminated after reporting high complication rates for one doctor, illegal conduct of the doctor, falsification of affidavits and patient records, incomplete abortions and failure to report a minor who had an adult partner.
Rodriguez, who ran three Planned Parenthood centers in Arizona and worked for the organization for 17 years, sued the non-profit after being fired from her position in October 2017 after repeatedly making claims that Planned Parenthood was endangering the health and safety of their patients.
“I didn’t want this to continue to happen,” said Rodriguez, adding that she wanted there to be a warning to employers, “that they cannot keep doing this to employees. It doesn’t matter how big of a global corporation you are — when you do wrong, justice comes.”
Attorney Tim Casey, who represented Rodriguez on a contingency basis, said as a manager at Planned Parenthood’s Glendale location, Rodriguez started noticing that the medical director was involved in a “disproportionate number of very severe complications” for women he performed abortions on, including perforated uteruses.
“Anytime an abortion procedure is done, a person in the clinic has to count the body parts of the abortion to make sure it was complete. They call that counting the ‘products of conception.’ And they have to complete an affidavit saying the abortion was complete and they got all the body parts out,” Casey said, referring to Rodriguez’s claim of falsification of records. “The medical director had been instructing his assistants to fill out the affidavit and sign them before the abortion surgery had ever been completed or even started.”
After she reported these concerns to her supervisors at Planned Parenthood, she received a final written warning, despite not having received any warnings, written or verbal, before, and despite that she was the company’s 2016 employee of the year.
Rodriguez was allegedly terminated because narcotics were found on her desk, even though she was out of the office, and a coworker testified to Casey that she never saw narcotics on her desk on the day in question.
“Planned Parenthood never interviewed Mayra to see how those expired narcotics got in there. They never interviewed any employees, and the next time they met, they fired Mayra. The decision to fire Mayra was made by the vice president of the company whom Mayra had been reporting to, and by the medical director, the very person who had been the subject of Mayra’s complaints,” Casey said.
“Our theory, in the case that we presented to the jury, was that they set out to fire her and discredit her so if she ever went to the Arizona Department of Health Services or to the public, they needed to have her discredited.”
Rodriguez said she had a lot to lose by coming forward because of her undocumented status. But to her, it wasn’t about the money, but about seeking justice.
“There was no amount of money that would have been sufficient if I ended up deported. I have been in this country for 25 years — I have no immediate family in Mexico,” she said. “I spoke to my family and told them what we could lose. They knew that I wanted to do this because it wasn’t fair. I have seen it happening too many times in that organization, not only statewide, but nationwide.”
Rodriguez received support from the local pro-life community. She attends St. Joan of Arc Parish in Phoenix, where she met Fr. Don Kline, who now serves as pastor at St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale. Fr. Kline was present in the courtroom throughout the duration of the trial.
“As her spiritual father, I felt that it was important that she knew of God’s love and mercy for her, particularly in her struggle or suffering, that God was with her,” Fr. Kline said. “I saw myself as a prayerful presence in her life, to try to support her in any way that I could so that she didn’t feel alone as she desired to expose the truth and live as an authentic daughter of God.”
Fr. Kline said he believes there are many more Planned Parenthood employees who operate under a “banner of fear,” and he hopes this case will shed light on the “inability for Planned Parenthood to really serve women.”
“I think Mayra’s a very strong person for coming forward with this,” he said.
Abby Johnson, herself a former Planned Parenthood director and author of the autobiographical “Unplanned” which was adapted for film earlier this year, is also the founder and director of And Then There Were None, a ministry that has helped over 525 abortion workers — including Rodriguez — leave their jobs.
“When Mayra came to And Then There Were None with her incredible story, I felt solidarity with her, having gone through a similar situation when I worked for Planned Parenthood,” Johnson said in a press release.
“Standing with her through the trial and rejoicing in the ultimate victory has been amazing,” added Johnson, who is also the founder and director of And Then There Were None, a ministry that has helped over 525 abortion workers leave their jobs.
There are similarities between Johnson’s and Rodriguez’s experiences. Both were named “Employee of the Year” from Planned Parenthood the year before they left. They both were directors of facilities. And they both started working for Planned Parenthood for the same reasons: to help women.
“I hope my case is a lesson to other workers that shows them that the truth will prevail,” Rodriguez said in the press release. “I also hope my case is a lesson to employers who abuse their power: sometimes the underdog wins, and justice will be done.”
Mike Phelan, director of the Diocese of Phoenix Office of Marriage and Respect Life, expressed his support for Rodriguez to The Catholic Sun.
“This is a powerful testimony to the movement of grace through prayer; many have been praying for Mayra and for a just verdict. The shield of lies around the abortion industry has again been pushed aside,” Phelan said. “Arizonans can be very proud of Mayra and her attorney, Tim Casey, who presented the truth so effectively.”
Rodriguez said the most hurtful things said in court were the deception by women she had considered friends and by Planned Parenthood executives themselves, who frequently referred to her as a “liar” due to her undocumented status the entire time she worked at Planned Parenthood.
“Planned Parenthood publicly states they want to help and stand up for immigrants, that they care about these women, but it’s not true. They shamed me for my immigration status,” said Rodriguez. “But here we are, the jury heard the truth.”