LOS ANGELES – HBO has responded to a former network employee who alleges in a lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired in May after speaking out against problems she perceived with the coronavirus testing vendor hired during the production of the show, saying she had been the subject of complaints of serious misconduct by other employees.
Georgia Hesse’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, age harassment, and common law intentional interference with contractual relations. The 56-year-old plaintiff was a production health adviser for the second season of the HBO drama, “Winning Time: The Rise Of The Lakers Dynasty,” and was responsible for assisting the show in complying with coronavirus health and safety requirements, according to the suit filed Sept. 13.
“Hesse was on the front lines of protecting the crew from the global COVID pandemic,” the suit states.
But according to court papers filed Wednesday by HBO attorneys, Hesse was “removed from her position due to her own misconduct and for no other reason.”
According to the suit, Hesse was told that an investigation into her previous work on “Westworld,” another HBO series, showed she was perceived to have communication problems, prohibited people from speaking with each other, and was perceived to favor her son — a co-worker on the show — as well as men over women in general, according to the suit.
HBO management initially told Hesse that she was not being fired, which the plaintiff alleges was done because the company knew that it was unlawfully retaliating against a whistleblower, the suit states.
However, Hesse’s firing was confirmed when HBO stopped paying her and subsequently sent COBRA documents that stated her employment had ended the week of May 7, according to the suit.
But HBO attorneys state in their court papers that multiple employees on “Westworld” accused Hesse of unspecified serious misconduct. HBO hired an independent law firm to investigate the complaints and, based on the firm’s findings, it was determined that Hesse could not serve in a supervisory capacity on any HBO-related production, according to the network’s attorneys’ court papers. The reasons for that determination were unspecified.
“Ultimately, Hesse was removed from her supervisory position on “Winning Time” solely because her prior conduct on “Westworld” demanded that HBO take action,” the HBO lawyers maintain in their court papers.
According to her suit, shortly after Hesse began working on “Winning Time” she discovered that a coronavirus testing vendor, CineMedic, was allegedly defrauding HBO by billing for lab-based COVID tests while providing rapid tests, which are deemed inferior, the suit states. Hesse was told that the testing results were returned in 90 minutes, which was a red flag to her that the tests were not lab-based, the suit states.
Crew members were being falsely told that they were being given superior lab-based tests, the suit states. In addition, the company falsely represented to HBO it had a Clinical Laboratory Improvements Amendments waiver, the suit alleges.
The CLIA defines waived tests as those categorized as simple laboratory examinations and procedures that have an insignificant risk of an erroneous result. However, the CLIA waiver number that CineMedics provided belonged to a different company, the suit states.
“It is unknown to the plaintiff, at this point, why producers and HBO favored a vendor who lied to them, ripped them off, fabricated medical records, and put the lives and safety of cast and crew at risk by peddling overpriced, inferior tests,” the suit states.
Hesse “repeatedly blew the whistle on CineMedics’ fraud, which jeopardized the health and safety of the crew,” the suit states.
Hesse was repeatedly told that executive producer Kevin Messick was the driving force behind hiring and retaining CineMedics, even though it was more expensive than competitors that offered better products and services, according to the suit.
“Indeed, CineMedics told Hesse that she had angered Messick when she attempted to cancel its contract,” the suit states.
In early May 2022, Hesse contacted the company that actually held the CLIA and was told by email by its representatives that the firm was not familiar with CineMedics and that the latter was not authorized to use the company’s waiver, according to the suit.
Within 72 hours, HBO retaliated by firing Hesse, the suit states.