Doctor’s Defamation Suit Against University over Use of Resident Physicians Moves Forward

Author HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Hartley Brooks, Law Clerk, The Health Law Firm

On July 11, 2023, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky allowed a doctor to move forward with one of his defamation claims against the university’s provost for allegations made to support his termination.

A medical doctor and oral surgeon at the University of Kentucky (UK) sued the university and university officials on multiple grounds, including making a defamation claim against the university’s provost. The defamation claim stems from the Statement of Charges made by the provost in the physician’s termination proceedings.

The Statement of Charges claims that the doctor stole from the UK, took credit for patient care services that a resident performed, caused the College of Dentistry to submit false claims to the federal government, and encouraged a colleague to falsify medical records.

The court granted summary judgment on three counts but denied summary judgment on the claim that the doctor stole from the university.

University of Kentucky Policy.

The UK employed the doctor from 2001 to 2019. Before 2017, UK policy approved by its Dental Care Board required its staff to designate the faculty member as the treatment provider on billing documents when a resident helped the faculty member with treatment and documented the care. During 2017, billing practices changed, and employees began designating residents as the treatment providers whenever the residents documented a patient’s care.

When the faculty member was designated as the treatment provider, the faculty member would be entitled to 40 percent of the fees paid.

University of Kentucky’s Investigation.

From April 2017 to July 2018, UK documents designated a resident as the treatment provider for 89 patients the plaintiffs doctor alleges he treated. The doctor, believing he was entitled to income for this care, reviewed the files and removed any reference to a resident from the patient notes, or so it is alleged in the pleadings.

The altered documents triggered an internal investigation. The university interviewed seven residents whose notes had been changed by the doctor. The residents confirmed that patient clinical care occurred in two ways: 1) they would treat the patient and present their findings to the doctor, and he would then reevaluate the patient, or 2) the resident and doctor would treat the patient simultaneously.

Since none of the 89 patients left without seeing the doctor, he alleges that he was entitled to the income for their care.

The investigation confirmed that there were no patient care issues. The issues were purely with the documentation of the patient care. The medical records do not reflect the services performed because the documents do not mention a resident providing care. The report alleges that the doctor removed all references to residents in the documentation solely to obtain compensation for these visits.

The university’s provost decided that the university needed to discipline the doctor for altering the medical records, most probably a prudent decision.

Disciplinary Actions.

The provost informed the doctor in January 2019 that university termination proceedings would begin. However, it is alleged that he did not follow the correct termination procedures. The provost decided to investigate further while suspending the doctor from clinical care pending the investigation’s outcome.

After this, the provost filed a Statement of Charges against the doctor, which began the administrative process to terminate tenured faculty. In the Statement of Charges, the provost claimed the doctor stole from the University of Kentucky, falsified medical records by claiming he provided services that a resident provided, caused the university to submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid, and encouraged a colleague to behave similarly.

The doctor resigned and sued the university and university officials on multiple grounds, including the defamation claim against the provost for his four statements in the Statement of Charges.

Legal Proceedings.

The provost filed a motion for summary judgment for qualified privilege. Qualified privilege protects a speaker where the communication is one in which the party has an interest and it is made to another interested party.

In employment, qualified privilege applies to internal discussions and communications necessary to a company’s proper function and law enforcement. This protection will apply despite a statement’s falsity if the public interest in detecting wrongdoing outweighs the private interest for defamation if the suspicions are made in good faith.

Privilege can be overcome by showing actual malice and falsity in a statement. It is the burden of the plaintiff to defeat the assertion of qualified privilege. So, in this case, the doctor has to show that the provost’s four statements are false and were made maliciously.

In the present proceeding, the judge is not deciding if the statements are defamatory. The judge is only deciding if a jury could find the statements defamatory and whether to grant summary judgment in favor of UK.

The judge granted summary judgment in favor of the UK provost on three of the allegedly defamatory statements: 1) That the doctor falsified medical records, 2) That the doctor caused the university to submit false claims to the federal government, and 3) that the doctor influenced another faculty member to do the same.

Federal courts grant summary judgment if the moving party does not dispute a material fact. The moving party is entitled to judgment if there is no dispute between the parties. The judge found no disagreement with the statement that the doctor falsified medical records.

For the statement that the doctor caused the college to submit false claims to the government, the doctor could not overcome the qualified privilege that the provost had as a matter of law. The doctor failed to show that the provost knew or should have known that the allegation was false or that the provost spoke maliciously. Therefore, the qualified privilege stood, and that claim was dismissed.

The doctor also failed to show that the provost’s statement that the doctor influenced a colleague was false. Therefore, the doctor was also unable to defeat the qualified privilege for that statement.

The judge decided that the plaintiffs introduced sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether he could defeat qualified privilege for the claim that he stole from the University of Kentucky. This evidence included the testimony of four other UK dentists stating that the doctor should have been designated as the treatment provider, not the residents. This means that it could be argued that the funds were earned by the plaintiff doctor and not stolen by him.

Evidence was also introduced to show that the provost recklessly disregarded the possibility that the statement was false. There was no evidence that the doctor failed to participate in caring for the patients at issue. All evidence showed that he did treat the patients with a resident. Because of this, the jury could conclude that he was entitled to the compensation and, therefore, did not steal it.

The judge denied summary judgment for the UK provost regarding the statement that the doctor stole from the University of Kentucky. However, summary judgment was granted in favor of the UK provost on the other three defamation claims dismissing them.

Click here to read the Memorandum Opinion and Order on our website.

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

At the Health Law Firm we represent dentists and oral surgeons, resident physicians and fellows, and other health professionals. We represent them in legal disputes and disciplinary cases against their universities and residency programs, in investigations and complaints against their licenses, in clinical privileges matters and peer review hearings, in administrative hearings and in complex litigation. We litigate cases in state and federal courts and in administrative forums. We have a great deal of experience in representing physicians against universities, medical schools, and graduate medical education programs. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations complaints before the board of dentistry and board of medicine.

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:

Cunningham v. Blackwell, CIVIL 3:20-cv-00008-GFVT-EBA (E.D. Ky. Jul. 11, 2023)
“U.S. Court in Kentucky Allows Physicians Defamation Claim to go Forward in Termination Dispute.” American Health Law Association Health Law Weekly. (21 July 2023). https://www.americanhealthlaw.org/content-library/health-law-weekly/article/7db3086c-db3c-4f85-bad7-88802f937f14/U-S-Court-in-Kentucky-Allows-Physician-s-Defamation

About the Authors: 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.

Hartley Brooks is a law clerk with the health law firm. Its main office is in 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.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

“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 © 2023 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

Doctor’s Defamation Suit Okayed for Termination by University over Use of Resident Physicians

Author HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Hartley Brooks, Law Clerk, The Health Law Firm

On July 11, 2023, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky allowed a doctor to move forward with one of his defamation claims against the university’s provost for allegations made to support his termination.

A medical doctor and oral surgeon at the University of Kentucky (UK) sued the university and university officials on multiple grounds, including making a defamation claim against the university’s provost. The defamation claim stems from the Statement of Charges made by the provost in the physician’s termination proceedings.

The Statement of Charges claims that the doctor stole from the UK, took credit for patient care services that a resident performed, caused the College of Dentistry to submit false claims to the federal government, and encouraged a colleague to falsify medical records.

The court granted summary judgment on three counts but denied summary judgment on the claim that the doctor stole from the university.

University of Kentucky Policy.

The UK employed the doctor from 2001 to 2019. Before 2017, UK policy approved by its Dental Care Board required its staff to designate the faculty member as the treatment provider on billing documents when a resident helped the faculty member with treatment and documented the care. During 2017, billing practices changed, and employees began designating residents as the treatment providers whenever the residents documented a patient’s care.

When the faculty member was designated as the treatment provider, the faculty member would be entitled to 40 percent of the fees paid.

University of Kentucky’s Investigation.

From April 2017 to July 2018, UK documents designated a resident as the treatment provider for 89 patients the plaintiffs doctor alleges he treated. The doctor, believing he was entitled to income for this care, reviewed the files and removed any reference to a resident from the patient notes, or so it is alleged in the pleadings.

The altered documents triggered an internal investigation. The university interviewed seven residents whose notes had been changed by the doctor. The residents confirmed that patient clinical care occurred in two ways: 1) they would treat the patient and present their findings to the doctor, and he would then reevaluate the patient, or 2) the resident and doctor would treat the patient simultaneously.

Since none of the 89 patients left without seeing the doctor, he alleges that he was entitled to the income for their care.

The investigation confirmed that there were no patient care issues. The issues were purely with the documentation of the patient care. The medical records do not reflect the services performed because the documents do not mention a resident providing care. The report alleges that the doctor removed all references to residents in the documentation solely to obtain compensation for these visits.

The university’s provost decided that the university needed to discipline the doctor for altering the medical records, most probably a prudent decision.

Disciplinary Actions.

The provost informed the doctor in January 2019 that university termination proceedings would begin. However, it is alleged that he did not follow the correct termination procedures. The provost decided to investigate further while suspending the doctor from clinical care pending the investigation’s outcome.

After this, the provost filed a Statement of Charges against the doctor, which began the administrative process to terminate tenured faculty. In the Statement of Charges, the provost claimed the doctor stole from the University of Kentucky, falsified medical records by claiming he provided services that a resident provided, caused the university to submit false claims to Medicare and Medicaid, and encouraged a colleague to behave similarly.

The doctor resigned and sued the university and university officials on multiple grounds, including the defamation claim against the provost for his four statements in the Statement of Charges.

Legal Proceedings.

The provost filed a motion for summary judgment for qualified privilege. Qualified privilege protects a speaker where the communication is one in which the party has an interest and it is made to another interested party.

In employment, qualified privilege applies to internal discussions and communications necessary to a company’s proper function and law enforcement. This protection will apply despite a statement’s falsity if the public interest in detecting wrongdoing outweighs the private interest for defamation if the suspicions are made in good faith.

Privilege can be overcome by showing actual malice and falsity in a statement. It is the burden of the plaintiff to defeat the assertion of qualified privilege. So, in this case, the doctor has to show that the provost’s four statements are false and were made maliciously.

In the present proceeding, the judge is not deciding if the statements are defamatory. The judge is only deciding if a jury could find the statements defamatory and whether to grant summary judgment in favor of UK.

The judge granted summary judgment in favor of the UK provost on three of the allegedly defamatory statements: 1) That the doctor falsified medical records, 2) That the doctor caused the university to submit false claims to the federal government, and 3) that the doctor influenced another faculty member to do the same.

Federal courts grant summary judgment if the moving party does not dispute a material fact. The moving party is entitled to judgment if there is no dispute between the parties. The judge found no disagreement with the statement that the doctor falsified medical records.

For the statement that the doctor caused the college to submit false claims to the government, the doctor could not overcome the qualified privilege that the provost had as a matter of law. The doctor failed to show that the provost knew or should have known that the allegation was false or that the provost spoke maliciously. Therefore, the qualified privilege stood, and that claim was dismissed.

The doctor also failed to show that the provost’s statement that the doctor influenced a colleague was false. Therefore, the doctor was also unable to defeat the qualified privilege for that statement.

The judge decided that the plaintiffs introduced sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether he could defeat qualified privilege for the claim that he stole from the University of Kentucky. This evidence included the testimony of four other UK dentists stating that the doctor should have been designated as the treatment provider, not the residents. This means that it could be argued that the funds were earned by the plaintiff doctor and not stolen by him.

Evidence was also introduced to show that the provost recklessly disregarded the possibility that the statement was false. There was no evidence that the doctor failed to participate in caring for the patients at issue. All evidence showed that he did treat the patients with a resident. Because of this, the jury could conclude that he was entitled to the compensation and, therefore, did not steal it.

The judge denied summary judgment for the UK provost regarding the statement that the doctor stole from the University of Kentucky. However, summary judgment was granted in favor of the UK provost on the other three defamation claims dismissing them.

Click here to read the Memorandum Opinion and Order on our website.

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

At the Health Law Firm we represent dentists and oral surgeons, resident physicians and fellows, and other health professionals. We represent them in legal disputes and disciplinary cases against their universities and residency programs, in investigations and complaints against their licenses, in clinical privileges matters and peer review hearings, in administrative hearings and in complex litigation. We litigate cases in state and federal courts and in administrative forums. We have a great deal of experience in representing physicians against universities, medical schools, and graduate medical education programs. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations complaints before the board of dentistry and board of medicine.

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:

Cunningham v. Blackwell, CIVIL 3:20-cv-00008-GFVT-EBA (E.D. Ky. Jul. 11, 2023)
“U.S. Court in Kentucky Allows Physicians Defamation Claim to go Forward in Termination Dispute.” American Health Law Association Health Law Weekly. (21 July 2023). https://www.americanhealthlaw.org/content-library/health-law-weekly/article/7db3086c-db3c-4f85-bad7-88802f937f14/U-S-Court-in-Kentucky-Allows-Physician-s-Defamation

About the Authors: 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.

Hartley Brooks is a law clerk with the health law firm. Its main office is in 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.

Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm. The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

“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 © 2023 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

 

 

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

 

Humana Agrees To Pay $11.2 Million Settlement in Nursing 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 Vaccination Mandate For COVID-19 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.

 

Texas Hospital’s Vaccination Mandate For COVID-19 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 Health Insurance Company To Pay $11.2 Million Settlement to Nurses

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 Vaccination Mandate For COVID-19 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 Settlement 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

 

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