Star Surgeon Took Household Medical Depart. Then She Was Fired

Courtney Stephenson, DO, was once a star fetal surgeon for Atrium Health, the North Carolina-based healthcare system. After more than 15 years with Atrium, she was terminated in November 2019. Stephenson – one of the few surgeons in the U.S. who can perform intrauterine surgery for an often fatal condition called twin-twin syndrome – is now suing her former employer in federal court for $ 10 million for retaliatory acts and finally fired for her decision to take a family vacation.

According to the complaint, Stephenson became aware that her daughter suffered a relapse of a serious health condition in May 2019 that “required immediate and constant care from her mother”. The girl’s surgeon met with Stephenson’s superiors, Robert Higgins, MD, and Ngina Connors, MD to discuss their decision to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the lawsuit said. It then describes the setbacks and retaliation Stephenson allegedly faced in the months that followed.

“It was evident that Dr. Stephenson was able to choose between the satisfaction of her bosses in her role as MFM [maternal-fetal medicine] Doctor and fetal surgeon and the necessary care for her underage daughter in her role as a single mother, “according to the lawsuit.

Despite the objection, Stephenson’s lawsuit finds that her FMLA filings have been approved by Atrium’s Human Resources Department. During her FMLA tenure, Stephenson claims that when she returned to the Fetal Care Center to care for certain patients, she often had to stay at the center for the length of the working day without following the specifications of her FMLA requests. She also claims that during her FMLA vacation she was invited to numerous hostile meetings with her superiors at which she was told that her decision to leave the company was “unfair” because she “places her responsibilities on her partners.” ” have.

Prior to leaving, Stephenson had never received a complaint about her medical judgment or ability to care for her patients, the lawsuit said. In February 2019 – less than a year before she was fired – Atrium bragged about Stephenson’s talents and philanthropic spirit on its website.

During and immediately after her FMLA vacation, Stephenson underwent two examinations of her clinical care “resulting from her performing life-saving fetal surgeries that produced positive outcomes for babies and mothers,” the lawsuit said.

“There are babies all over North Carolina and the Southeast who would not be alive without their care,” one of Stephenson’s attorneys, Cate Edwards, wrote in an email to MedPage Today. “When she had to take leave to care for her own child, she was turned back and eventually released. This is not only wrong, but also illegal.”

Stephenson now works as the fetal nursing practitioner on the Maternal-Fetal Medicine team at Piedmont Medical Center.

Atrium Health denied Stephenson’s claims. “The facts are very different from the facts described in the lawsuit. However, we believe that it is best to resolve disputes such as these through legal process rather than public statements. We reserve the right to make additional comments on Dr. Stephenson’s departure a more reasonable time and forum ago, “an Atrium spokesman said in a statement to MedPage Today.

Neither Atrium nor Edwards would disclose what Stephenson was given as the reason for their resignation.

“The reasons why we broke off our relationship with Dr. Stephenson more than a year ago were and are known to her,” said the hospital system statement. “Atrium Health’s decision was entirely legal, fair and unrelated to their FMLA allegations.”

Atrium Health grew rapidly in North Carolina, investing billions in the acquisition of facilities like Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Randolph James, JD, an employment law attorney in North Carolina who is not involved in the case, told MedPage Today that these costly deals place health systems like Atrium with debt that needs to be paid. A unique specialty like Stephenson’s, James said, is an important asset to a health centre’s cash flow.

“It’s really ironic,” said James. “These institutions on the marketing side promote how much they care about families and babies, but in their own use of human resources, they work really hard with these doctors.”

James noted that if Stephenson’s claims are legitimate and her case is as strong as it seems, they will likely be resolved in a confidential settlement rather than going to court. Still, he hopes the case will go to court and succeed so that the verdict can set a precedent for FMLA-related labor law.

Last updated on March 30, 2021

  • Kara Grant joined MedPage Today’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team in February 2021. She deals with psychiatry, mental health, and medical education. consequences

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