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Medical Residents Forgo Internal Due Process Hearings at Their Own Risk

Greg CareBy Greg Care

Yet another court has weighed in on the importance of pursuing the internal “due process” hearings available to resident physicians for contesting probation, non-renewals, and termination.  The take-away lesson from this court decision, as I have written elsewhere, is that residents take a significant risk by skipping “due process” procedures in favor of proceeding straight to court.

An intermediate appeals court in Louisiana recently addressed, in the case of [Resident’s Name Withheld on Request] v. Roberts, 184 So.3d 123 (La. Ct. App. 2015), whether a resident physician could sue his program before exhausting the internal process provided by his internal medicine training program for challenging his termination.  The court ultimately ruled that because of the wording of the resident’s contract and the specific type of termination involved, the resident did not have to pursue the internal process.  Thus, this case narrowly avoided being a cautionary tale on this point, and is a reminder of how important it is to get legal advice before taking actions that can affect your legal rights.

The resident in this case had been fired “without cause” pursuant to a term in his contract that allowed for the termination of his employment for any reason so long as 30-days’ notice was provided.  The court observed that the contract did not precondition this type of firing on any kind of hearing or evaluation beforehand, and thus concluded that a hearing was not necessary to contest this type of firing.  Indeed, because the program’s policy manual noted that appeal hearings were intended to review whether “due cause exists for probation or dismissal,” such a review would have been pointless for a termination that was inherently “without cause.”

The resident’s success, however, ended on this technical point.  The court went on to find that the trial court below had not erred in rejecting the claims he brought while representing himself – that the residency program had breached his contract by terminating him without cause, negligently failed to send other programs a verification of his residency, falsely represented that it had an affiliation with a teaching hospital, and claims of unpaid wages. While the resident’s self-advocacy was admirable, this result demonstrates how difficult it can be to prevail without experienced legal representation in residency cases.

If you have been subjected to discipline by your residency program, contact us today to determine if we can assist you.

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Gregory Care Partner