Physician's $10M lawsuit claims Atrium Health fired her for taking time off to care for her daughter

A maternal fetal medicine physician is suing Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health, alleging she faced retaliation after taking leave to care for her sick daughter, The Charlotte Observer reported March 18. 

Courtney Stephenson, DO, opened the Charlotte Fetal Care Center in 2010 and became nationally known for her ability to provide surgery to treat twin to twin transfusion syndrome in utero. 

Then in 2019, when she needed to care for her sick child at home, she alleges she faced retaliation and was later fired, according to the Observer.

"Dr. Stephenson spent her entire career saving other people's babies with life-saving surgeries. There are babies all over North Carolina and the Southeast who would not be alive without her care," the physician's attorney, Cate Edwards, told the newspaper. "But when she had to take a leave of absence to care for her own child, she was met with retaliation and ultimately fired. That’s wrong. It's also illegal."

Dr. Stephenson, who is on staff at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C., has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Atrium, the Carolinas Physicians Network, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, according to the Observer. The lawsuit alleges violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as discrimination and retaliation.

Atrium Health disagrees with Dr. Stephenson's allegations.

"Atrium Health appreciates Dr. Stephenson's years of service. The reasons we discontinued our relationship with Dr. Stephenson well over a year ago were and are known to her and have been thoroughly explained to her legal counsel," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's March 18. "Atrium Health's decision was entirely legal and appropriate and was not in any way related to her FMLA allegations. Our mission is to serve the medical and related needs of our community and we fully support all of our employees, including Dr. Stephenson, who need to take family medical leave to care for themselves or their family members. We regret Dr. Stephenson has chosen to initiate this lawsuit, but we will defend the decision we made."

Atrium Health added: "The facts differ significantly from what is described in the lawsuit; however, we believe it is best to allow disputes like this to be resolved through the legal process rather than through public statements. We will reserve additional comments regarding Dr. Stephenson's departure for a more appropriate time and forum."

The lawsuit at issue says Dr. Stephenson in May 2019 discussed taking a 30-day Family and Medical Leave Act break after learning her daughter relapsed from an unidentified condition that required "immediate and constant care from her mother," according to the Observer

Dr. Stephenson said she also discussed taking intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act time off to care for her daughter over six months. The law gives eligible employees 12 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period for reasons including "to care for the employee's spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition" and for "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job."

The lawsuit claims Dr. Stephenson took a month of leave, was called into meetings during that month, and then faced scrutiny and retaliation, the Observer reported. This included a "quality action" filed against her; being accused of "dumping her responsibilities on her partners" not taking leave correctly; and revoking her maternal fetal medicine and hospital privileges, the lawsuit claims. 

Dr. Stephenson was fired in November 2019. 

Read the full Observer article here

 

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