A Cook County jury has awarded $1 million to a doctor who alleged Advocate Health had fired him from his post at Oak Lawn’s Advocate Christ Medical Center in retaliation for his attempt to out a superior he accused of being a “sexual predator” towards resident doctors at the hospital.
The Oct. 3 verdict ended a trial which began in late September with a victory for Brett Ohlfs, a doctor who had worked in the emergency department as an attending physician at the west suburban hospital since 2005.
Ohlfs, now a California resident, had filed his retaliatory discharge action in 2013 against Downers Grove-based Advocate, Illinois’ largest health care system, operating a dozen hospitals in the Chicago area and elsewhere in the state.
In his lawsuit, Ohlfs had alleged he was fired two years earlier after he had attempted to persuade hospital administration to launch an investigation against another male attending physician, who he accused of making improper sexual advances toward younger female resident doctors.
Ohlfs alleged he raised the issue on numerous occasions with superiors, including Chintan Mistry, the doctor who served as chair of the Christ Medical Center emergency department.
After several meetings which Ohlfs alleged produced no action, he alleged Mistry threatened to fire him. In July 2011, Ohlfs was fired.
Following his termination, Ohlfs took his case to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which concluded its investigation by finding it believed Ohlfs may have been improperly fired in retaliation for his attempt to blow the whistle, to no avail, on what he viewed as improper conduct by a coworker.
Following that determination, Ohlfs filed suit in Cook County court.
In response, Mistry and others at Advocate filed suit in April 2016, claiming Ohlfs had surreptitiously recorded conversations and meetings at which he had raised his concerns about his coworker, in violation of Illinois’ eavesdropping laws.
They further accused Ohlfs of selectively editing those recordings to “place Dr. Mistry and Advocate in a false light.”
Mistry and Advocate, however, dropped that lawsuit in August. A judge at the same time denied Ohlfs’ motion for sanctions against Mistry and Advocate for bringing the counteraction.
On Aug. 17, Cook County Circuit Judge John C. Griffin denied an attempt by Advocate to end the case before it went to trial, denying the health system’s motion for summary judgment. In that order, Griffin said there were too many “genuine issues of material fact” yet to sort out in the case, including whether Ohlfs was “opposing unlawful conduct in good faith” when he accused his coworker of sexual harassment at a meeting in February 2011; questions surrounding the timing of Ohlfs’ termination, relative to his complaint; and whether Ohlfs was otherwise in good standing at his job at the time the conflict began over his sexual harassment complaints.
“These findings should be left to a jury to decide,” the judge said.
According to its verdict, the jury of 11 people found Ohlfs had “more likely than not … opposed that which he reasonably and in good faith believed to be unlawful conduct” and that Advocate had “more likely than not … retaliated against Dr. Ohlfs.”
Ohlfs was represented in the action and defended against the counterclaim by attorneys Christina Hatzidakis, of Chicago, and Joseph Patrick Wood, of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Advocate was represented by the firm of Smith Amundsen, of Chicago.