A doctor who sued an Oak Lawn hospital for allegedly firing him in retaliation for attempting to unmask a “sexual predator” working at the hospital has come under examination himself in a lawsuit allegedly illegally recording private workplace conversations in an effort to ensnare his former supervisor and others working at the hospital.
Physician Brett R. Ohlfs, now a California resident, filed his retaliatory discharge suit in 2013 in Cook County Circuit Court against Downers Grove-based Advocate Health, for which he worked in the emergency department at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
On Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, Chintan Mistry, a doctor who serves as the chair of that department, joined with two Advocate human resources administrators to accuse Ohlfs of violating the state’s eavesdropping laws.
Mistry, along with Robin D. Fell, the hospital’s vice president of human resources, and Jeremy Sadlier, a human resources manager, traced their complaints to January 2011, when Ohlfs purportedly met with Mila Felder, chair of the hospital’s Performance Improvement Committee, regarding the investigation of the care of one of Ohlfs’ patients.
Ohlfs, who allegedly refused to cooperate with Felder’s earlier attempts to discuss the matter, responded, “in a loud, unprofessional, aggressive and belligerent manner in front of staff and patients … such that another physician had to step in and intervene during Dr. Ohldf’s tirade,” the complaint said.
A Feb. 22, 2011, meeting also was confrontational, according to Mistry’s complaint. In April, another hospital offered Ohlfs a job, and on April 27 he allegedly met privately with Mistry in Mistry’s office — a session Mistry accused Ohlfs of secretly recording with his phone.
According to the lawsuit, Ohlfs allegedly recorded that conversation to engage Mistry in a discussion of his professional conduct, performance as department chairman and Ohlfs’ accusations of a “sexual predator” he asserted was working in the emergency department, “in order to cause a reaction and implicate him (Mistry) in the purported scandal, all while surreptitiously recording the conversation.”
According to the complaint, Ohlfs “has redacted, omitted or otherwise manipulated the recordings to distort the context of the discussion and to further place Dr. Mistry and Advocate in a false light.”
Ohlfs also is accused of recording a May 11, 2011, meeting he arranged with Fell and Sadlier. After he again mentioned a “sexual predator,” Fell and Sadlier requested names of victims so they could conduct an investigation. After several days, the complaint said, Ohlfs submitted a list that “included every resident physician who had served” in the emergency department, male and female, since 2009. Fell requested a narrowed list, which Ohlfs never provided.
On May 6, 2013, Ohlfs purportedly sent a letter to Advocate’s top administrators threatening “a ‘very public’ disclosure of Advocate’s indiscretions and could involve the assistance of the (American Civil Liberties Union.)” Further, the letter warned that if the parties could not reach a settlement, Ohlfs would “begin an arduous public campaign” against the chain.
The complaint said Ohlf solicited media outlets for these efforts. On June 4, 2013, Crain’s Chicago Business wrote an article about Ohlfs’ lawsuit headlined “Whistle-blower sues Christ Hospital over harassment allegations.” In that article, Ohlfs reported he’d wanted to stay at the hospital “to protect the female residents.”
Ohlfs lawsuit against Advocate remains pending. That case has been set for trial call in September.
The formal complaint included three identical counts alleging Ohlfs violated the Illinois Eavesdropping Act — one each from Mistry, Fell and Sadlier — arguing Ohlfs’ actions damaged the plaintiffs’ “personal and professional reputation” and caused “significant emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and mental suffering.” Each count called for the court to assess actual damages of more than $50,000 and punitive damages of $250,000.
Attorneys Ryan B. Jacobson and Heather A. Bailey, of SmithAmundsen, Chicago, are representing Mistry and the others suing Ohlfs.
Ohlfs is represented in his lawsuit against Advocate by attorneys Christina Hatzidakis, of Chicago, and Joseph P. Wood, of Scottsdale, Ariz.