Cardiologist files $15M defamation suit against VCU Health System's physician practice group

A physician with Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University has filed a $15 million defamation suit against the VCU Health System's physician group and four colleagues after his lawyers claim he faced retaliation for raising concerns about inadequate heart care for chemotherapy patients, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Eight things to know:

1. In the lawsuit filed July 19, Tiziano Scarabelli, MD, PhD, claims his colleagues "embarked on a campaign to defame and discredit" him with attacks on his professional conduct and false sexual misconduct allegations. He began working for VCU's physician practice group in June 2017.

2. In his work as director of the cardio-oncology section of the cardiology division in the internal medicine department, Dr. Scarabelli says he found physicians who failed to monitor cardiac function in patients during and after treatment with chemotherapy, presenting potential risks to patients' heart health, according to the suit. The suit does not mention patients who faced harm from the lack of monitoring.

3. In an email sent to the Times-Dispatch July 27, Pamela DiSalvo Lepley, VCU's vice president for university relations, said, "We have no comment on the pending litigation beyond stating we vigorously deny the allegations and will defend our actions accordingly."

4. Dr. Scarabelli claims he questioned why physicians were not monitoring patients in real time as opposed to just monitoring before treatment. The suit alleges VCU Health System did not want to adopt these practices because of potential liability concerns linked to changing procedures and that Dr. Scarabelli faced resistance from colleagues on whether insurance would cover cardiotoxicity monitoring.

5. The suit details emails between colleagues in November 2017 allegedly about complaints over Dr. Scarabelli "criticizing other MDs in front of patients," and described Dr. Scarabelli as "unnecessarily argumentative about issues." The emails also raised an allegation of sexual misconduct against Dr. Scarabelli.

6. In November 2017, the same month Dr. Scarabelli was informed of sexual harassment complaints, discussions began to surface about removing Scarabelli from medical practice, the suit claims. The group was taking steps to fire him without investigating charges made against him, the suit alleges.

Dr. Scarabelli was suspended from his job in January, placed on administrative leave and removed from clinical duties, the suit claims. A Title IX investigation cleared Dr. Scarabelli of the charges in February when it determined there were no complaints of sexual misconduct, but he was not notified of this, violating adopted policies, according to the suit.

7. Although the investigation did not reveal evidence to warrant a "for cause" termination of Dr. Scarabelli's employment, he was told in March that his contract with MCV Associated Physicians would end June 30 and his contact with the VCU School of Medicine would end Sept. 30.

Dr. Scarabelli alleges the defendants have refused to reinstate him, having the effect of reaffirming false allegations and damaging his reputation, according to the suit.

8. Dr. Scarabelli's suit seeks $5 million in noneconomic compensatory damages, $10 million for economic damages to his past and future loss of earnings and $350,000 in punitive damages.

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