A former HBO employee sued the network Tuesday, alleging she was wrongfully fired in May after speaking out against problems she perceived with the coronavirus testing vendor hired during production of a show.
Georgia Hesse’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, whistle blower retaliation, age harassment and common law intentional interference with contractual relations. The 56-year-old plaintiff seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
An HBO representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Hesse 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.
“Hesse was on the front lines of protecting crew from the global COVID pandemic,” the suit states.
Shortly after she began working on “Winning Time,” Hesse 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 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 for “patently absurd and pretextual reasons,” the suit states.
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 told Hesse initially that she was not being fired, which the plaintiff alleges was done because the company knew that it was unlawfully retaliating against a whistle blower, the suit states.
However, Hess’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.