Physician sues Mayo Clinic over free speech rights

Michael Joyner, MD, a physician who was suspended by Mayo Clinic after publicly criticizing the National Institutes of Health, filed a lawsuit against the Rochester, Minn.-based system for allegedly violating his protected speech.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 13, claims Mayo Clinic violated his protected speech rights by disciplining him after he "had two problematic interviews," the lawsuit said.

Dr. Joyner is principal investigator on a government-funded study on convalescent plasma. When being interviewed by CNN in January for a story related to the study, he said he was "frustrated" with the National Institutes of Health's "bureaucratic rope-a-dope," criticizing the agency's COVID-19 treatment guidelines convalescent plasma and the NIH's hesitancy to make it available to patients. Dr. Joyner is also under scrutiny for comments made to The New York Times and his alleged mistreatment of co-workers.

Between 2020 and 2023, he alleges Mayo Clinic retaliated against him and fabricated reports of problematic behavior that it used to justify firing him in 2023. He also alleges that in 2020 he filed a whistleblower complaint regarding a Mayo Clinic business partner's "attempt to unlawfully access and use protected patients' data." He claims leaders at the system called his report "unprofessional" and retaliated against him for whistleblowing.

In a statement shared with Becker's, a Mayo Clinic spokesperson said Dr. Joyner's claims are unfounded.

"Dr. Joyner's lawsuit is yet another manifestation of his refusal to recognize or accept responsibility for his inappropriate behaviors," the statement said. "Mayo intends to show that in 2020 … Dr. Joyner gave Mayo an ultimatum, demanding that Mayo agree to give him a seven-figure payment within 48 hours. At the same time, he was found to have consistently engaged in rude and disrespectful communications toward co-workers and outside partners. Dr. Joyner alleged that his discipline was retaliation, similar to the retaliation claims in his lawsuit. Mayo hired an outside attorney to investigate these concerns. The attorney, who is now a federal judge, found there was no retaliation and that Dr. Joyner had engaged in a pattern of asserting inflammatory allegations grounded almost entirely in speculation." 

Dr. Joyner's lawsuit comes five months after 33 professors from Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University, New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University, New York City-based Columbia University and other institutions wrote a letter to Mayo Clinic protesting the decision to suspend him.


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