Court Rules New York Doctor Can Subpoena Yelp for User Info in Defamation Suit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 7, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Yelp is subject to a subpoena to reveal the names of anonymous users who left negative reviews for a doctor and his medical practice. The federal court judge found that the statements in the reviews made on Yelp contained factual claims that the doctor did have a legal right to contest in court. This is a factor that is usually missing in such cases. Accordingly, a motion for expedited discovery filed by the plaintiff physician was granted by the federal judge.

A Litigious History of Lawsuits.

The embattled physician has reportedly filed other lawsuits against reviewers for defamation. The doctor himself says he’s won or reached settlements with three of the negative reviewers, forcing them to take down their “false” reviews and paying an undisclosed amount of money.

Most recently, the physician filed suit in November 2020 against nine anonymous Yelp account-holders. According to the complaint, from November 2019 to August 2020, the users posted several reviews that contained statements that harmed his practice by making untrue and libelous comments.

In the present case we are discussing filed against the Yelp reviewer, the judge found that statements such as the physician “diluted” injectables and deceived patients about pricing to be factual statements. (The physician is apparently one who performs cosmetic procedures on patients like using botox and fillers.) Therefore, if they were false statements, as the physician alleged, this establishes a prima facie claim for defamation that courts have the authority to hear. According to the court’s order: “Because Plaintiff has alleged a prima facie case . . . and they cannot identify John Doe[s] without a court-ordered subpoena, the Court agrees that there is good cause to allow for early discovery.”  Click here to view the court’s opinion on our website.

I see this as a positive occurrence. Too often reviewers on Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other such websites post egregious comments amounting to character assassination and libel, because they believe they can remain anonymous. And the owners of the websites fight tooth and toenail to avoid any liability and to avoid any co-operation when justice is sought by those harmed by their actions. We have had a number of cases we have handled where a “reviewer” uses a phony name and creates a phony user account just for the purpose of making a libelous, damaging review. Then, if caught, they just create a new phony account and re-post the same thing again. If the major carriers and websites like Yelp, Google, Bing, AOL, and Glass Door, want to remain free of liability, then they should co-operate when a person has to hire a lawyer and pursue legal action in order to obtain justice.

Is This Abusing the Legal System in An Effort to Stifle Free Speech?

Yelp reportedly warns users of the physician’s previous attempts to sue over negative reviews in a “Consumer Alert” pop-up notice on the doctor’s review page. Additionally, it reminds users, “reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”

Unlike a newspaper or television outlet, Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other Internet carriers and websites enjoy immunity from liability for what they allow to be posted because of a federal law that protects them. Why are they given such a big advantage over more traditional media outlets? Why should they be?

In a separate lawsuit, a judge denied the effort by the same doctor to reveal the anonymous reviewer who wrote: “Cheap product and he’s absolutely not experienced nor does he care!!!!!” Yelp argued that the review is not defamatory as there is no statement of fact that can be proven true or false. The court agreed and found that the review used a “loose, figurative tone,” suggesting that the author expressed opinions rather than facts based on a negative experience.

Therefore, according to the court, the plaintiff was not able to make “a sufficient showing of prima facie defamation.” Click here to read the judge’s order in full in that case.

I disagree with the court’s ruling, however. Whether or not the physician has any experience is certainly a fact. It can easily be proven or disproven. It seems that if a doctor hung up a sign that said “Absolutely no Experience,” this would be perceived by most reasonable people to be a negative thing. I doubt that many people would be attracted to that doctor or his practice.

Key Takeaway From the Case.

The key takeaway from this case is that contrary to what Yelp’s pop-up notice implies, Yelp’s users have “implicitly agreed” to the release of their personal data if ordered by a court.

To learn more about fighting negative reviews on websites like Yelp as a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine hearings. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “Doc Can Subpoena Yelp User Info In Botox Defamation Suit.” Law360. (October 7, 2021). Web.

Marza, Mike. “Manhattan doctor sues over Yelp reviews he says are false.” ABC 7NY. (November 19, 2019). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

Humana Health Insurer To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

 

 

 

Texas Hospital’s COVID Vaccination Mandate Upheld by Federal Court

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

To view the court’s order in full, click here.

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Florida Gov Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On March 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that protects businesses, governments, and healthcare providers in Florida from COVID-19 lawsuits if they make a reasonable effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus (whatever that means). Specifically, the measure gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches as long as the alleged negligence doesn’t involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The House Passed S.B. 72 on March 26, in an 83-31 vote, and DeSantis signed it the same day he received it from the Legislature.

Why doesn’t this conflict with the Florida Governor’s ban on any mandatory masking, vaccination, or vaccination “passport” requirements? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.


Details of Senate Bill 72.

The new law establishes significant legal hurdles for individuals who want to sue businesses and health care professionals over coronavirus-related injuries. Plaintiffs who file suit will need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored public health safety guidelines. They will also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Does this sound arbitrary and capricious to anyone other than me?

Now how can a doctor or anyone else make a statement like the one required by the law? How does a doctor know where the patient has been or with whom the patient has been in contact the last fifteen days? How is a physician going to conduct contact tracing and figure out where the patient’s COVID-19 came from? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.

The law states that it will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. One must ask if this is an ex post facto law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.) and the Florida Constitution (Art. 1, § 10)? Additionally, the new law establishes a one-year limitation period to sue from the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim. Boy, this should really throw a big stumbling block in front of any potential plaintiff trying to get into court. (Note: Yes, I know that the federal prohibition on ex post facto laws was held to apply to criminal laws.)

“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives,” DeSantis said applauding the quick passage of the legislation.

View S.B. 72 here.

To read about a recent case in Florida involving a COVID-19 death lawsuit, click here to read my blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hale, Nathan. “Fla. Gov. Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protection Law.” Law360. (March 29, 2021). Web.

Kang, Y. Peter. “Fla. COVID-19 Biz Liability Shield Bill Sent To Gov.’s Desk.” Law360. (March 26, 2021). Web.

NBC 6 Miami. “Florida Governor Signs COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill.” AP News. (March 29, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Humana Health Insurance Company Agrees To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

Attorney Carole C. Schriefer Headshot

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

 

 

 

University of Colorado Sued For Denying COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemptions

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 29, 2021, a pediatrician and medical student sued the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU) for denying COVID vaccine religious exemptions. The U.S. District Court lawsuit argued that school administrators judge the validity of personal religious beliefs in violation of the First Amendment.

Religious Exception For COVID Vaccine.

Both plaintiffs are challenging the denial of their requests for religious exemptions from the school’s COVID vaccination mandate. The lawsuit alleges that the university arbitrarily grants religious exemptions to its vaccine requirement for all staff and students. It also claims that CU is approving requests that are based on organized religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations while subjecting requests based on personal religious beliefs to “intrusive religious inquisition to test the veracity of students’ and employees’ asserted religious beliefs.”

Details of the Denials.

Neither plaintiff is named in the lawsuit ostensibly to protect them from retaliation. Instead, the pediatrician is referred to as “Dr. Jane Doe,” and the first-year medical student as “John Doe.”

According to the complaint, Dr. Jane Doe requested a religious exemption based on her Catholic beliefs and opposition to “abortion-derived cell lines” used in the three available U.S. vaccines. However, she did not oppose other vaccines, such as the flu shot.

Because of this, CU denied her request, stating that campus policy “only recognizes religious exemptions based on a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to all immunizations,” according to the complaint. Jane Doe argues that her pending termination will harm her reputation and stain her record as a licensed medical professional.

According to the complaint, the second plaintiff, John Doe, a first-year medical student, requested a religious exemption citing his Buddhist beliefs and avoidance of “products developed through the killing or harming of animals (including human beings).”

CU officials also denied the exception request, stating that John Doe’s objections to the vaccine “are all of a personal nature and not part of a comprehensive system of religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit says John Doe’s pending termination from CU would bar him from transferring to a different medical school under guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges and that he would have to reapply to attend a different U.S. medical program.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the university said their mandatory vaccine policy “offers the best way to protect” the more than two million patients that the university faculty serve annually.

Both plaintiffs seek approval of their requests for religious exemptions and money for court costs and personal damages. This lawsuit is just one example of the fight over a growing number of COVID vaccine mandates nationwide. As a result, businesses need to be mindful and provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID vaccine.

To read about another recent case regarding a hospital’s COVID vaccine mandate, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, medical groups, institutions, and individual health professionals in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health and DORA investigations. We represent medical students and resident physicians in disputes with their medical education programs. We do NOT represent plaintiffs seeking to avoid vaccinations or in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Nieberg, Patty. “University of Colorado faces COVID religious exemption suit.” AP News. (September 29, 2021). Web.

“Pediatrician, medical student sue University of Colorado over denial of COVID vaccine religious exemption.” The Colorado Sun. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Texas Hospital’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Upheld by Federal Court

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

To view the court’s order in full, click here.

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Humana Agrees To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

 

 

 

What is the Cost For Legal Defense in a Hospital Medical Staff Peer Review Fair Hearing?

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

If you are a physician, nurse practitioner, oral surgeon, dentist, or other health professional with clinical privileges in a hospital, you may face a situation where you are required to defend yourself at a “fair hearing.”  A “fair hearing” is held by the hospital’s medical staff pursuant to the Medical Staff Bylaws or Rules and Regulations of the Medical Staff.

“Fair Hearing”–A Term of Art.

The hearing is called a “fair hearing,” which is a term of art.  Usually, those defending themselves at such hearings don’t find them to be fair at all. However, according to the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA), such proceedings are required to provide the affected healthcare practitioner with certain “due process,” such as the right to be advised of the specific charges made against them, the right to legal representation, the right to produce witnesses and evidence of their own and other rights.

Be Sure You Have Professional Liability Insurance That Includes Coverage for Clinical Privileges Actions.

If you face such a hearing, you will find it difficult to find an experienced lawyer to represent you and, when you do, it will be a costly endeavor.  This is one of the primary reasons to purchase good professional liability insurance, including legal defense of such peer review actions. Unfortunately, most insurance companies that provide such coverage have limits far too low to pay all legal defense expenses you will probably incur.

Standard Insurance Coverage Amounts May Not Be Sufficient to Protect You Properly.

However, the basic amount provided for such coverage in most insurance policies is not sufficient to cover the actual expenses of the proceeding.  Standard coverage amounts are usually in amounts of $25,000, $35,000, or $50,000;  again, these are not sufficient to pay for even the most basic fair hearing.  Some insurers have much higher limits;  it is important to find out precisely what you have to increase the coverage or buy additional coverage.

There are often additional “riders” to insurance policies that you can purchase, “additional coverages,” or even a completely separate policy that will provide such legal defense coverage for you.  It is usually not that expensive and is worth inquiring about.  This type of coverage often goes hand-in-hand with professional license defense coverage as one can cause the other to occur. For example, a hospital peer review action can result in a report to your state licensing board. A licensing complaint or action may cause hospital peer review action to be initiated against you.

You should think of a “fair hearing” as similar to a medical malpractice trial and plan accordingly.


Costs and Expenses of a “Fair Hearing”

One of the most significant expenses you will incur in preparing for a “fair hearing” is expert witness fees. In almost every case we have ever had, obtaining one or more expert witnesses to testify at the hearing has been necessary.  Obtaining experts in medical sub-specialties will cost more, of course, than those in specialties such as family medicine and internal medicine.  It is often difficult to find an expert witness who will not only support your position in the case but will also show up at the hospital to testify at the “fair hearing.”

Additionally, the mere preparation for the hearing (including document reviews and working with the expert witnesses) and representation at the hearing is a time-intensive endeavor.  It has been our experience that even the most routine “fair hearing” costs approximately $100,000. For example, in one case we had involving several different areas of spinal surgery, requiring five (5) expert witnesses, cost in excess of $250,000 (note:  all charges against the doctor were dismissed at the hearing).

Conclusion.

Peer review “fair hearings” in hospitals are costly to defend and require an experienced attorney and the financial resolve to see the case through to its conclusion.  Often insurance does not provide sufficient coverage for such hearings. Therefore, physicians, nurse practitioners, oral surgeons, psychologists, and others having hospital clinical privileges should purchase additional coverage for such events and hire experienced legal counsel to represent them at the earliest stage of the proceedings.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers in Peer Review and “Fair Hearing” Matters.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., L.L.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Law Aimed at Healthcare Professional Background Screening Passed

Attorney Michael L. SmithBy Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For several years, many healthcare professionals have been required to pass a Level II background check in order to work in most Florida healthcare facilities licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Many healthcare professionals are also required to pass a Level II background check in order to be licensed by the Florida Department of Health (DOH). In March 2020, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 713, which will add the offenses of battery on a vulnerable adult and battery on a patient or resident of certain healthcare facilities (primarily nursing facilities) as a disqualifying offense. The law took effect on July 1, 2020. Previously, only felony battery and battery on a minor were disqualifying offenses for purposes of the Level II background screening.

More Details on the New Legislation.

A health professional who previously passed the Level II background check may nevertheless be deemed “not eligible” for employment in a licensed health facility on the next Level II background check. This would occur if the practitioner has been found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to battery of a vulnerable adult, or battery on a patient or resident of a healthcare facility. (This is the wording of the statute, not mine.)

A practitioner who is determined to be “not eligible” on a Level II background check due to a disqualifying offense must apply for an exemption from that disqualifying offense, in order to be permitted to work. The practitioner seeking an exemption has the burden of proving that the exemption should be granted. The provider must prove this with clear and convincing evidence, a standard that is higher and stricter than that in a civil trial.

Any health professional seeking an exemption from a disqualifying offense should seek the assistance of an experienced health law attorney familiar with the application process, and the types of evidence that can prove that the health professional should be granted an exemption.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

About the Author: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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