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Doctor gets $10 million in whistleblower retaliation suit

A physician who was fired because he blew the whistle on unethical practices at a University of California facility will receive $10 million from the school. Official reports show that the man was fired for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace. The settlement was reportedly approved shortly before closing arguments were slated to be presented in the whistleblower case.

The defendant will be required to step down from his position as a teacher at the University of California Los Angeles. Although he must abdicate his position, he is receiving a significant amount of compensation because of his employment-related troubles. Health care workers who report wrongdoing in a surgical setting should not be so unfairly targeted by their peers and supervisors. Those victims deserve restitution for their decision to advocate ethical practice.

The defendant sought financial restitution from UCLA, along with the University of California board of regents, university officials and other surgeons in 2012. He had alleged that surgeons at the facility were providing substandard patient care because they were receiving kickbacks from industry groups. The man, who had been a department chair for the orthopedic surgery section, said he was worried about physicians who had bedded down with medical-device manufacturers and other industry giants. One surgeon reportedly received $250,000 in consulting fees through the device manufacturer Medtronic, for example.

The plaintiff accused UCLA leaders of ignoring such conflicts of interest because the university could have benefited from the unethical relationships. This settlement has come at a time when national attention has been turned toward the unethical practices that abound in the health care industry. In just a few months, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act will require physicians to publicly disclose their relationships with industry businesses. This law will protect patients, but it may also have an effect on whistleblower claims in health care settings.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "UC OKs paying surgeon $10 million in whistleblower-retaliation case" Chad Terhune, Apr. 22, 2014

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