Wisconsin judgment returned to the Health Organization for wrongful dismissal


The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin recently issued summary judgment to a health care organization over allegations of wrongful dismissal of a physician and tortious interference over allegations that the organization health care provider reportedly fired the doctor after criticizing his COVID-19 policies. Hartsuch v. Ascension Medical Group – Northern Wisconsin, Inc., 2021 WL 3809908 (USDC, WD Wisconsin 2021). Ascension Medical Group (“AMG”) operates hundreds of healthcare facilities in more than 20 states. In 2019, AMG contacted Delta Locums Tenens (“Delta”) to fill a vacant emergency room position at one of its facilities, the Howard Young Medical Center (the “Hospital”). Delta has asked its employee, Dr. David Hartsuch (“Dr. Hartsuch”), to complete the substitutes mission shortly after.[1]

On March 18, 2020, AMG released guidelines for providers working in its healthcare facilities related to the COVID-19 pandemic regarding certain precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease.[2] On March 20, 2020, Dr. Hartsuch spoke with Dr. Heong P’ng, Medical Director of the Hospital’s Emergency Services, to express concerns about certain aspects of AMG’s guidance on COVID-19 and for suggest certain measures that could be taken in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) to limit the spread of COVID-19. During this conversation, Dr Hartsuch expressed to Dr P’ng that he was not sure he could continue working in a place that was not making progress towards the improvements he had identified.[3] On March 23, 2020, Dr Hartsuch emailed the hospital’s medical services supervisor, Jennie Larson, expressing concerns about AMG’s policies to limit the spread of COVID-19.[4] Dr Hartsuch sent a follow-up email on March 24, 2020, before anyone responded on March 23.rd e-mail, indicating “if [AMG] does not improve their security protocols I cannot continue working [the Hospital] in good conscience.[5] Ms. Larson forwarded these emails to Dr. P’ng. Based on statements made in the emails and statements made by Dr Hartsuch to Dr P’ng, Dr P’ng expressed concern that Dr Hartsuch would stop showing up for his shifts at the Hospital if his demands were not met. . As a result, Dr P’ng ordered Ms Larson to remove Dr Hartsuch from the shift schedule at the Hospital.[6]

Dr Hartsuch ultimately sued AMG and Ms Larson, alleging wrongful dismissal and tortious interference with his employment contract with Delta, the recruitment agency that placed him in the hospital.[7] Dr Hartsuch argued that AMG broke the law by firing him after criticizing hospital protocols related to COVID-19. The Wisconsin employee at will doctrine generally provides that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason.[8] To circumvent this general rule, Dr Hartsuch alleged that AMG had committed the common law offense of unjustified rejection, which applies when “the rejection is contrary to a fundamental and well-defined public policy, as evidenced by existing law. “.[9] Dr Hartsuch alleged he was released for attempting to fulfill a positive obligation related to public policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 and in doing so he was following the standard of care for physicians.[10]

The district court issued a summary judgment in favor of the hospital on the grounds that (a) Dr Hartsuch was not fulfilling a positive obligation imposed by public order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and (b) no A reasonable jury could not conclude that AMG canceled Dr Hartsuch’s shifts because he complained about safety rules rather than because he threatened to stop working.[11] Specifically, the district court ruled that public orders to stop the spread of COVID-19, including state orders declaring a public health emergency, did not constitute a positive legal obligation that Dr Hartsuch was forced to complete.[12] Therefore, Dr. Hartsuch’s claims were dismissed by summary judgment.

The District Court issued its order on August 26, 2021. We will continue to monitor this matter and may update this article if and when this matter is appealed.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Hartsuch v. Ascension Medical Group – Northern Wisconsin, Inc., 2021 WL 3809908 at * 1 (USDC, WD Wisconsin 2021).

[2]Identifier.

[3]User ID.

[4]User ID. at 2 hours.

[5]User ID.

[6]User ID. to 3.

[7] Ms. Larson was dismissed from the summary judgment prosecution on the grounds that all of her actions had been performed in a ministerial capacity and that Dr. Hartsuch was unable to identify a basis to hold her accountable in the circumstances stated. User ID. to 3.

[8]Brockmeyer v. Dun & Bradstreet, 113 Wis. 2d 561, 567, 335 NW2d 834, 837 (1983)

[9]Winkelman v. Beloit Mem’l Hosp., 168 Wis. 2d 12, 20, 483 NW2d 211, 214 (1992).

[10] Hartsuch at 4 o’clock.

[11]User ID.

[12]User ID. at 5.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in CaliforniaRevue nationale de droit, volume XI, number 302


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