Boston-based Steward Healthcare System fired a psychiatrist for breaching HIPAA Rules but must now show evidence to jury that he did so. The psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Lipin, argues he was relieved of his position due to his taking extended disability leave, not for a violating HIPAA.
Dr. Lipin contracted pneumonia and asked for extended disability leave as per the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). He was granted extended leave by the organization and was due to return to his position on March 2, 2016. However, Lipin was let gp on February 23 while still on disability leave. The reason given was that a HIPAA violation had supposedly occurred, which his attorney, Kavita M. Goyal, argued in court an excuse for the termination.
Steward Healthcare System claimed Lipin had violated HIPAA Rules by sharing patients’ protected health information to law enforcement agencies. Steward Medical Group President, George Clairmont, said that the decision had been taken to sack Lipin over the HIPAA violation prior to him taking leave. Clairmont also said Lipin was terminated after it was found he was working for Anna Jaques Hospital while on disability leave.
Lipin took the legal action against Steward Medical Group inc., Steward Healthcare System, and Holy Family Hospital in relation to his dismissal. The case was sent to federal court in November 2016, and Steward Healthcare submitted a motion for a summary judgement on the case.
Massachusetts federal judge, Leo. T. Sorokin, found that the case should go to trial to establish the facts surrounding the dismissal. Steward Healthcare will now have to convince a jury that the decision to sack the psychiatrist was due on the HIPAA violation and not the discovery that Lipin was working for another hospital during his disability leave.
Clairmont argues the decision to fire Lipin was taken before he went on disability leave on January 26. The HIPAA violation was noticed on January 16 and the decision was taken to fire Lipin. Lipin was not fired immediately as counsel was sought from the company’s legal department in relation to the termination – whether it should be for cause, effective immediately, or without cause, in which instance 90 days’ notice or pay in lieu of notice would be necessary.
Lipin took leave and made Steward Healthcare aware on February 5 that he would remain on leave until February 17, and on February 12 told Steward Healthcare that he would have to to remain on leave until February 23. On February 20, leave was extended until March 2.
On February 13, Steward Healthcare discovered that Lipin was still working for Anna Jaques Hospital in the mornings while on leave, and Lipin was fired ten days later on February 23.
While Judge Sorokin said that there is no evidence that directly contradicts Clairmont’s account, “A factfinder could reasonably choose to disregard Clairmont’s testimony in light of the lack of any action taken by Steward to arrange coverage for Lipin’s patients or to terminate Lipin’s employment before February 13, especially when this inaction is contrasted with Steward’s concerted steps to fire Lipin after February 13,” wrote Judge Sorokin. He added “These circumstances could support a reasonable inference that Steward decided to fire Lipin only after Clairmont learned of Lipin’s work at Anna Jaques.”
Today an initial pre-trail conference will take place.