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Fired doctor sues county, loses whistleblower claim

Friday, October 12, 2018
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Jordyn Reiland

Fired doctor sues county, loses whistleblower claim

By Jordyn Reiland Law Bulletin staff writer
Posted October 12, 2018 10:02 AM

A jury found in favor of Cook County Health and Hospitals System after a former hospital employee, a doctor, claimed he was wrongly fired over complaints he made concerning patient care.

The defense verdict was reached Tuesday after a six-day trial before Cook County Associate Judge Thomas R. Mulroy Jr. Plaintiff attorneys asked the jury for more than $9 million in damages for lost wages, emotional distress and damage to their client’s reputation as a result of his termination.

Plaintiff Mohammad Vaseemuddin worked as an emergency room physician at south suburban Oak Forest Hospital until it closed and was converted in August 2011 to Oak Forest Health Center. At that time, the emergency room became an immediate care clinic.

Once Vaseemuddin made the transition he began sharing complaints with hospital management about “poor patient care due to cost-cutting measures that left patients without adequate care,” according to the complaint.

When Vaseemuddin did not feel the complaints were addressed he brought the issues to a union representative in March 2012. Vaseemuddin’s concerns were sent up the chain of command, which included system CEO of Cook County Health and Hospital Systems Dr. Rama Raju and the chairman of the SEIU Local Unit 73 Chair Christine Boardman.

Concerns included understaffing and an incident where a patient went unnoticed by staff in the immediate care area and was later found unresponsive in a janitor’s closet, according to the complaint.

Vaseemuddin contended the patient’s death could have been avoided had the immediate care center been properly staffed.

After the incident, Vaseemuddin contacted the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to report the death and lack of proper management.

While he made the complaints to his superiors and the sheriff’s office, Vaseemuddin alleged he was harassed by being given more patients than he could handle, was put on the schedule on days he had previously indicated he could not work and was falsely accused of being tardy.

In January 2013, Vaseemuddin applied for a position at Provident Hospital of Cook County, was offered the job and planned to start orientation on May 31, according to the complaint.

A month before orientation was set to begin Vaseemuddin told his supervisor his wife was pregnant and he would take Family Medical Leave Act time off. He said he would return Aug. 3, 2013. On May 9, 2013, Vaseemuddin found out the offer for the job at Provident had been rescinded.

Shortly before his leave was set to end Vaseemuddin asked to take a few weeks of vacation and then personal leave for several months thereafter. Both requests were denied by his supervisor.

Around the same time, Vaseemuddin signed a full-time contract with a physicians group that had privileges at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park and was set to begin working May 1, according to defense attorney Heather D. Erickson, of Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP.

It was not immediately clear as to why Vaseemuddin did not resign from his position with the county.

Vaseemuddin filed a grievance with his union representative two weeks before he was set to return to work. His union representative told him to return to work at the end of his scheduled leave and to continue to do so until the issue was resolved.

Erickson said he was told to return to work several times by his supervisor and his union representative but failed to do so.

Two disciplinary hearings were held and in October 2013 it was recommended Vaseemuddin be terminated. He was terminated Dec. 4.

Vaseemuddin initially filed a federal lawsuit against the county and its hospital system in April 2014 but the case was dismissed in July 2015 and refiled in Cook County Circuit Court.

The Cook County suit alleged common law retaliatory discharge, violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage counts against the defendants.

Vaseemuddin argued at trial he was fired in retaliation for the complaints he made to his supervisors and the sheriff’s office in 2012 about patient care.

The county contended he was let go because he refused to return to work in August 2013 when he was scheduled to do so. As to the tortious interference claim, Erickson said they argued there can not be interference if there is no third-party and both Provident and the hospital where Vaseemuddin worked are in the same Cook County system.

Prior to trial the county, Vaseemuddin rejected a $250,000 settlement offer from the county.

Erickson said the defense verdict “was a very successful victory for the county.”

The county was also represented by Manuel “Manny” Sanchez of Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP.

Vaseemuddin was represented by John C. Kreamer and Joseph E. Urani of Kreamer Law Group LLC in Naperville. They could not be reached for comment.

The case is Mohammad Vaseemuddin v. County of Cook, et al., 16 L 3996.

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