LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A former Kaiser Permanente doctor who criticized medical services at its Hollywood hospital was forced to resign under the pretext of being a racist and a sexual harasser, a lawyer said today.
“They set him up and (forced him out) because he wouldn’t shut up,” attorney Charles Mathews said in his opening statement in the Los Angeles Superior Court retrial of Dr. Michael Martinucci’s wrongful termination suit.
But Kaiser attorney Barbara Johnson said Martinucci, a white radiologist, touched a male co-worker in inappropriate ways and was heard by other employees using ethnic slurs, then tried to interfere with a subsequent investigation into the allegations.
“He talked to some witnesses after being told not to,” Johnson said.
The first trial of the doctor’s lawsuit ended in 2008 with an award of more than $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Martinucci, However, Judge Mary Thornton House ruled after the trial that the $7.5 million in punitive damages was not supported by clear and convincing evidence of malice on the part of Kaiser.
House also found that $3.9 million in compensatory damages was excessive and may have resulted in part from an incorrect jury instruction she gave.
The verdicts in both phases of the case were reached by an all-male jury.
House said a new trial should take place unless Martinucci agreed to accept compensatory damages of about $735,000. Martinucci appealed and a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld House’s rulings for the most part, tossing the doctor’s punitive damages claim and ordering a retrial of the wrongful termination case.
The justices threw out Martinucci’s defamation claim.
The retrial is taking place before Judge Richard Rico.
Martinucci filed suit in January 2007. He maintains he was met with resistance when he tried to improve the work standards of technicians and clerks at Kaiser’s West Sunset Boulevard hospital after being hired in January 2003.
Martinucci stood up against the union and lambasted the work of those whose imagery work was so poor that at times patients had to be called back to the hospital to have X-rays retaken, Mathews said.
The lawyer said those criticisms made his client the subject of false accusations that he was racist and that he made sexual advances toward a male technologist. According to his lawsuit, Martinucci is heterosexual.
“Suddenly he was now … a liability to the company,” Mathews said.
The physician said he was forced to resign in February 2006 under threat of being fired if he did not do so, and that he could not get hired in Southern California afterward. Mathews said his client now works in San Francisco and has lost about $2.14 million in benefits because of having to leave Kaiser.
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