Termination of Employment
Also under Employment
The issue in this case was whether the New York Times could discharge its employee, a physician, because she refused to act unethically.
The AMA supports the right and duty of physician-employees to adhere to medical ethical rules, even when otherwise directed by employers.
Dr. Horn sued the New York Times for wrongful termination of her employment relationship. She alleged that the Times’ Labor Relations, Human Resources, and Legal Departments had directed her to provide them with employees’ confidential medical records without those employees’ consent or knowledge. She also alleged that the Human Resources Department, so as to curtail the number of workers’ compensation claims filed against the Times, directed her to misinform employees that certain injuries and illnesses were not work related when, in fact, they were. She claimed that the Times fired her because she refused to follow these illegal instructions.
The Times moved to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that, under New York law, it could discharge Dr. Horn at-will. The trial court denied the motion, and the Times appealed.
By a 3-2 decision, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the Times’ motion to dismiss. Although the general rule in New York State is that employers can discharge their employees at-will, the court created an exception for a physician-employee who is being punished for following ethical obligations to patients. The court noted that Dr. Horn was legally required to follow the AMA’s Principles of Medical Ethics and CEJA Opinion E-5.09, which requires employed physicians to preserve the confidentiality of their patients’ medical information, even against the wishes of the employer.
The case was then appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York. By a five-to-one decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and the trial court. It held that, as in previous cases, it would decline to create a right of action for wrongful or abusive termination of employment or to recognize a covenant of good faith and fair dealing to imply terms grounded in public policy into employment contracts, and ordered the case dismissed.
Litigation Center involvement
The Litigation Center joined a brief prepared by the Medical Society of the State of New
York (MSSNY) to support Dr. Horn in the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court. Additionally, the Litigation Center, on behalf of the AMA, MSSNY, and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Court of Appeals to support Dr. Horn.
34 F.Supp.2d 433 (W.D. Tex. 1998)
The issue in this case was whether physicians had been wrongly terminated from their medical group because they recommended proper medical care for their disabled patients who were enrolled in capitated managed care plans.
The AMA supports the right and duty of physicians to adhere to medical ethical rules and practice standards even when otherwise improperly directed by employers or third party payors.
Physicians contended that they had been discharged because they had recommended proper medical care for their disabled and chronically ill patients who were enrolled in capitated managed care plans. The lawsuit was designed to broaden the scope of remedies available to such physicians. Defendants included a medical clinic, a management services organization, and four health plans. The case was filed in a Texas State court and was removed to the federal district court in San Antonio.
The federal district court held that the plaintiffs had adduced sufficient evidence to defeat a motion by defendants for summary judgment on the primary issues in the case. This published opinion established the right of physicians, under appropriate circumstances, to sue for wrongful discharge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, if the discharge was motivated by the physicians’ patient advocacy.
The court also entered summary judgment against Martin Guerrero, one of the physician plaintiffs, based on the release language in his employment severance agreement. He was found liable to HealthTexas for filing suit in violation of his agreement. Some of Dr. Guerrero’s claims, however, survived. The defendants made numerous additional motions, but they were all defeated, at least in part.
Ultimately, after the jury began its deliberations, the case settled under confidential terms.
Litigation Center involvement
The Litigation Center, in conjunction with the Texas Medical Association (TMA), contributed financial support to the plaintiffs.