A lawsuit filed against Centra Health by an oncologist who’s accused the provider of banning him in retaliation for raising concerns about improper practices has survived a round of legal challenges.
Dr. Dwight Oldham worked at the Lynchburg Hematology Oncology Clinic for several decades and entered into a professional services agreement with Centra once it bought the clinic in 2014.
In a lawsuit first filed in November 2018 as a whistleblower complaint in U.S. District Court, he described a system of rubberstamping and using breast ultrasounds to screen patients who have increased breast density, rather than diagnose patients with more specific breast abnormalities.
He also accused the provider of improperly and excessively ordering routine MRIs, which has led to anywhere from 50 to 100 unnecessary breast MRIs per year, according to the lawsuit. While the national average for using a breast MRI after a cancer diagnosis is around 33%, Centra’s use was 74% in 2016, according to the lawsuit.
Lawyers representing Centra filed a motion to throw out the lawsuit in October, and the court heard arguments on that motion in January. In an order published Monday, a judge decided to dismiss only one part of Oldham’s complaint.
Oldham started raising concerns about Centra’s breast imaging practices in August 2016, the lawsuit states, but Centra cancelled meetings he’d scheduled with administrators.
Following that, he said he tried to organize boycotts of Centra’s methodology with other doctors to no avail, and spoke with former Centra CEO E. W. Tibbs about the issue in the fall of 2016. That discussion resulted in Tibbs shaking up administrative assignments, including removal of Oldham as director for medical oncology.
Centra banned Oldham from its facilities for “threatening behavior” on Nov. 28, 2017, two days after he was at the oncology office reviewing files in order to file complaints about Centra’s practices, court documents state. While there, he told a member of the clinic’s management staff that he was preparing the complaints.
In his lawsuit, he claimed the “threatening behavior” was a pretext for banning him while “the true reason … was his stated intention of reporting Centra’s fraudulent activities.” He’s demanding Centra reinstate his contracted employment, along with unspecified monetary damages.
In Centra’s request for the case to be dismissed, it insisted Oldham was banned for disruptive behavior regarding a Centra administrator. Oldham admitted he “made unkind remarks” the administrator when served with an HR complaint in August 2017, court documents state, and he later received a letter of reprimand about it.
U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon dismissed Oldham’s breach of contract claim in an opinion published Monday, but held that his claims of illegal retaliation had merit.
Moon stated Oldham “sufficiently alleges that his firing was due to his protected activity,” pointing out the HR complaint had occurred months before Oldham was banned.