Surgeon blows the whistle at UCLA Medical Center. $10 million settlement at trial. Los Angeles County.
Whistleblower surgeon alleges UCLA allows docs to take medical industry payments that could compromise patient care. $10 million settlement after 2-month trial.
- Case Name: Robert Pedowitz, M.D. v. The Regents of the University of California, et al.
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC 484611
- Date of Settlement: Monday, 21 April 2014
- Date Action was Filed: Thursday, May 10, 2012
- Type of Action: Defamation, Employment
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Susan Bryant-Deason
- Plaintiffs: Robert Pedowitz, M.D., 54
- Defendants: The Regents of the University of California and 5 UCLA physicians
- Type of Result: Settlement at Trial
- Settlement Amount: $10,000,000 settlement at trial just before closing arguments. As part of the settlement, plaintiff resigned his faculty position.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 2 months
- Jury Deliberation Time: Not applicable - settlement just prior to closing arguments.
- Jury Polls: N/A
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: N/A
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Greene Broillet & Wheeler by Mark T. Quigley, Ivan Puchalt and Christian T. F. Nickerson, Santa Monica.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Gordon & Rees by Michael T. Lucey, San Francisco, for defendant UC Regents and 2 defendant doctors.
Paul Plevin & Sullivan LLP by Richard A. Paul, San Diego, for 3 defendant doctors.
- Plaintiff's Technical Experts: D. Jan Duffy, labor/employment, San Francisco.Charles A. Pietrafesa, M.D., M.B.A., hospital management. and compliance.Peter Formuzis, Ph.D., economist , Santa Ana.
- Defendant's Technical Experts: Jay Finkelman, Ph.D., human resources, Los Angeles.Regina Levison, career consultant, El Dorado.Margo Ogus, Ph.D., economist, Mountain View.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Dr. Pedowitz was hired as the Chair of UCLA’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in April of 2009, having formerly worked at UC San Diego and the University of South Florida. During the first year of his chairmanship, he reported conflicts of interest between faculty and outside industry and other alleged misconduct which he felt could potentially affect patient safety.
In 2010, less than a year into his chairmanship, Dr. Pedowitz was asked to step down and a settlement was entered into whereby he would continue his employment as a rank-and-file faculty member.
At the conclusion of hearing all the evidence in the trial, and prior to the case settling, Judge Bryant-Deason ruled to rescind the 2010 settlement agreement based upon the fraudulent concealment of documents which, according to Dr. Pedowitz, would have caused him to not settle his claims had they been made available to him.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
Plaintiff claimed that his removal as Chair was directly motivated by his protected disclosures of improper governmental activities which afforded him protection from retaliation under California's Whistleblower Protection Act.
That he suffered retaliation after reporting conflicts of interest and other misconduct by doctors that he witnessed as chairman of the UCLA Department of Orthopedic Surgery in 2009.
Dr. Pedowitz testified at trial about one of the orthopedic surgeons receiving $250,000 in consulting fees in 2008 from device maker Medtronic, and that it created tension when he tried to strictly enforce rules about disclosing and depositing outside income - rules which had largely not been enforced under the previous chairman.
Dr. Pedowitz’s attorneys argued UCLA turned a blind eye to this conflict of interest because the university profited from the success of medical products or drugs developed by its doctors.
Further, that in a zealous effort to oust him because of his disclosures, false rumors were spread about him throughout the department to garner support for his removal. Dr. Pedowitz presented evidence at trial that his retaliation claims were not investigated until more than a year after he made them, and that he was induced to sign a settlement agreement in 2010 in conjunction with stepping down as Chair without having been provided documentation of the defamatory campaign against him. Dr. Pedowitz only discovered defamatory documents as a result of a public records request.
Dr. Pedowitz also presented evidence of lack of inclusion in departmental activities, including not being assigned any sports teams, after he stepped down as Chair through the time of trial.
Dr. Pedowitz brought causes of action against defendants the Regents of the University of California and individual defendants for (1) Violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act (Gov. Code § 8547 et seq.), (2) Violation of Labor Code §1102.5, (3) Defamation, and (4) Rescission of Contract.
- Defendant's Contentions:
The Regents and individual defendants contended that Dr. Pedowitz was asked to step down as chairman because of poor leadership abilities and the manner in which he interacted with faculty and staff. Further, the Regents contended that the protected disclosures were not a motivating factor in any of the adverse employment actions taken against Dr. Pedowitz. Defendants also argued that the defamatory statements were substantially true and were not widely published.
Defendants contended that the conduct by faculty members was at all times lawful; that to fulfill its mission, UCLA must collaborate with industry; that industry ties are unavaoidable at a research institution.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $723,372
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $9,508,679 - $11,801,825, depending on retirement at age 70 or 75.