Jury to Decide If Psychiatrist’s Dismissal was Indeed Due to HIPAA Violation

Steward Healthcare System in Boston fired Dr. Alexander Lipin, a psychiatrist, for allegedly violating HIPAA rules. However, Lipin denied the allegation and claimed that his termination was an act of retaliation because he extended his disability leave.

Dr. Lipin requested for an extended disability leave because of contracting pneumonia. Steward Healthcare System approved the request and was supposed to come back for work on March 2, 2016.  But Lipin was fired on February 23 during his disability leave for an alleged HIPAA violation, which according to Attorney Kavita M. Goyal, Lipin’s lawyer, was just used as an excuse to terminate him.

According to George Clairmont, Steward Medical Group President, Lipin violated the HIPAA rules when he provided law enforcement with some patients’ protected health information (PHI). The HIPAA violation was discovered on January 16 and Lipin was supposed to be fired before he took leave on January 26. He was not fired immediately because of the need to further consult the company’s legal department concerning the nature of his termination. Should it be effective immediately, for cause or without cause (which requires 90 days’ notice or pay in lieu of notice)? George Clairmont also mentioned that Dr. Lipin was terminated after Steward Healthcare System discovered that the doctor was working for Anna Jaques Hospital during his leave.

Dr. Lipin filed a case against Steward Medical Group Inc., Steward Healthcare System and the Holy Family Hospital for his termination, which was moved to federal court in November 2016. Massachusetts federal judge Leo T. Sorokin ordered the case trial to proceed so that facts surrounding the dismissal can be established. A jury would need to decide after hearing the case if the psychiatrist’s dismissal was because he violated the HIPAA rules or because he worked for another hospital while on leave.

On February 5, Lipin took his leave until February 17. On February 12, he notified Steward Healthcare that he would remain on leave until February 23. On February 20, he extended his leave again until March 2. On February 13, Steward Healthcare discovered that Lipin worked for Anna Jaques Hospital in the mornings during his leave. On February 23, Lipin was terminated.

Judge Sorokin noted that there’s no evidence that contradicts Clairmont’s account. But the fact that Steward Healthcare did not take action on the coverage of Lipin’s patients nor terminated Lipin before February 13, it would seem that Steward Healthcare only decided to terminate Lipin after knowing about his other job. A pre-trial conference is set on May 30, 2018.