Human rights panel rules for fired medical employee

Posted July 09, 2010, at 11:55 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission has voted 2-1 in favor of a man who said he was fired before he could report what he called illegal and unethical medical practices by his former Orono employer.

The vote taken at the commission’s monthly meeting in June went against its chief investigator’s report, which recommended that the panel find no reasonable grounds to believe the Orono Medical Center fired the man as whistle-blower retaliation.

The case outlined how in January 2009 Bruce Boyington of Brewer was fired from the center, where he worked as a radiographer in the X-ray department.

Among the allegations in the complaint, Boyington said his employer ran unnecessary tests on patients and billed maximum charges to make extra profit.

“[Boyington] alleges that [Orono Medical Center] terminated his employment on January 22, 2009, in retaliation for his complaints about practices he believed to be illegal,” Barbara Lelli, the chief field investigator for the commission, wrote in her report. In response, the center’s practice manager alleges that he and Boyington “came to a mutual understanding that [Boyington] should no longer work at Orono Medical Center because of a disagreement that arose when Mr. Boyington did not use the proper chain of command to address his concerns.”

Lelli wrote that Boyington had worked at the center for a little more than a month.

In Lelli’s analysis, she wrote that Boyington was reluctant to bring his concerns to the doctor, who he said did these illegal practices, because the doctor also owns the center. She determined, however, that “[Boyington should] have brought his concerns to a public body, the patient involved or the appropriate licensing, regulating or credentialing authority as required in order for reporting activity to be protected under the [Whistleblower Protection Act].”

The medical center was not represented at the commission hearing in June.

But in a response to Boyington’s complaint filed with the commission, the practice manager, whose name is omitted, indicates that he confronted Boyington after overhearing the employee discussing office practices with a consultant training him on new equipment.

“We did not go into details about what he was accusing the company of,” the practice manager said in the response. “I said if he had problems we should discuss them with the owner.”

The response further states that Boyington got angry and said that he “can talk to anyone about anything whenever he wanted to. I told him that would not be tolerated … The argument got heated and we both agreed that his employment at Orono Medical Center should not continue.”

Despite the medical center’s response and the commission investigator’s recommendation, two of the three commission members present at the June 28 hearing voted in favor of Boyington. The commission has five members.

“The intent Boyington had was to report what appeared — and what was not disputed at all — to be malpractice,” Commissioner A. Mavourneen Thompson said in explaining her vote in his favor after the hearing. “That weighed very heavily with me.”

Commissioner Kenneth Fredette, who also voted in Boyington’s favor, said the fact that Orono Medical Center did not show up to the hearing hurt them.

“I thought it was very damaging to their case,” he said in a phone interview after the hearing. “I decided it was a close case, but I decided in his favor because of that.”

Fredette also said that the investigator did a great job, but that Boyington presented facts at the hearing that were not represented in the report.

“I thought [Boyington] made a very credible presentation. I thought the investigator did a good job, but as commissioners we have to look at this independently,” Fredette said.

Commission Chairman Paul K. Vestal Jr. agreed with the investigation and voted against Boyington. Vestal said he believed the man was fired for talking about the practice to an outside consultant who did not work at the center. If he wanted to report what he considered to be malpractice, Boyington could have reported it to the appropriate licensing agency, Vestal said.

When called a few days after the hearing by the Bangor Daily News, Dr. Harry Peddie, who owns Orono Medical Center, denied any illegal or unethical activity on the part of his office.

“This whistle-blowing business is a lot of nonsense,” Peddie said.

He said if Boyington “had negative feelings as to what we were doing, he should have gone to [the practice manager] or come to me and he never did. He never raised any issues.”

The commission now will try to get the parties together to resolve the issue.

The panel’s rulings are not law, but may become grounds for lawsuits.

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