Disruptive Practitioner Behavior: Title VII Claims Insufficient to Overcome HIPAA Violation and Legitimate Disciplinary Issues

July 6, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​A surgeon who had a protracted history of clinical disagreements with medical staff leadership over her habitual nonoperative treatment of appendicitis—and subsequent disciplinary actions—failed to prove that her eventual termination was related to unlawful discrimination based on her race, gender, or national origin, ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The surgeon, a woman of Chinese descent, had worked at the defendant hospital for nearly 20 years when, she alleges, her supervisors began to refer a disproportionate number of her cases to review committees in comparison with those of her white male colleagues. According to court records, the surgeon's evidence of discrimination was limited to "a handful of inappropriate comments" from one physician.

In December 2004, the hospital's surgical oversight committee reviewed the case of a 19-year-old with appendicitis who had a heart attack after being treated nonoperatively by the surgeon. This case was the "first in a series of clashes" between the surgeon and hospital administration, all centering on her professional judgment in the nonoperative treatment of appendicitis. In April 2005, the surgical oversight committee reviewed another case of nonoperative treatment of appendicitis; committee minutes reflect that the surgeon had been counseled that her treatment of...

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