Sometimes, they really are out to get you! In this case, California’s Fourth Appellate District felt the same way and upheld a $5.7M employer retaliation verdict in favor of Dr. Fitzgibbons. According to the good doctor, Integrated Healthcare Holdings, Inc. (IHHI) framed him on a gun charge after he objected to IHHI’s behavior.
Things were never rosy between Dr. Michael Fitzgibbons and IHHI. The good doctor made no secret that he was against IHHI buying Western Medical Center Santa Ana, where he was chief of staff as well as an infectious disease specialist. IHHI bought WestMed and three other area hospitals (Western Medical Center Anaheim, Coastal Communities Hospital in Santa Ana and Chapman Medical Center in Orange) in March 2005.
IHHI beat out Dr. Fitzgibbons and others who had formed an investment group in an effort to buy WestMed. Shortly after the purchase, IHHI sued the doctor for disclosing the fact that it had defaulted on a loan. Dr. Fitzgibbons won that suit to the tune of $150k in attorney fees payable by IHHI.
It didn’t end there, though. The good doctor emailed his colleagues in May 2005 saying, “The hospital appears to be underwater. Admissions are down 20 percent so they’re in the red. No way to get out. That is ominous. Sounds like it’s going BK (bankrupt).” IHHI didn’t seem to have any problems with that; it’s unclear that it even knew about the email. However, IHHI certainly knew when Dr. Fitzgibbons emailed the CEO and a state senator advising them that a private company found serious issues with WestMed’s cleanliness.
It sounds like a case of a big, bad investment corp muscling its way into what sounded at the time to be a decent hospital. Enter a dedicated doctor with no problem speaking his mind. One would think that eventually, either IHHI or Dr. Fitzgibbons would tire of the tension and strife and strike a truce. One would be horribly wrong.
The good doctor was cuffed and arrested in WestMed’s employee parking lot in 2006. The charges? Two anonymous 911 calls about a man driving the doctor’s car and waving a gun in traffic. A gun and a pair of black gloves were found in Dr. Fitzgibbons’ car. The good doc told the police the gun didn’t belong to him. The police ran DNA testing on the gloves and…
The results showed that the gun could not have belonged to Dr. Fitzgibbons. He was released and the charges were dropped.
Dr. Fitzgibbons sued IHHI, claiming that Bruce Mogel, its former chief, was behind the gun frame up and other actions that were taken to silence the good doctor and others who weren’t in favor of IHHI buying WestMed.
The good doctor won at the district court level, but the trial judge threw out the verdict, stating that IHHI couldn’t possibly be held responsible for Mogel’s actions, that Mogel was a man with a “personal grudge” acting on his own.
Which brings us to where we started. The appellate court ruled that there was “substantial” evidence showing that “Mogel acted within the scope of his employment by retaliating against Fitzgibbons” over the doctor’s challenge of the IHHI purchase of WestMed.
Dr. Fitzgibbons said, “The only relationship between Mogel and I was a business relationship. I met Mr. Mogel in person maybe twice in my life and each one of those times it was to discuss the care and business of IHHI. I’m greatly appreciative… that I finally received some justice.”
The good doctor now owns a private practice in Santa Ana.
IHHI’s lawyer, David Robinson, said the suit is simply “a case of sour grapes and revenge.” How accurate. Unfortunately, Robinson believes the sour grapes belong to Dr. Fitzgibbons and not his client.
Well, I’m hear to tell ya: living well is the best revenge and Dr. Fitzgibbons’ life just became $5.7M sweeter. How’s that for a case of sweet revenge?