One of the first whistleblowers to highlight inadequate safety measures in U.S. workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic has sued the Bellingham hospital and staffing firm that fired him in March.
Dr. Ming Lin filed the lawsuit in Whatcom County Superior Court last week, claiming wrongful termination, breach of contract, defamation, and infliction of emotional stress for his dismissal from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, where he worked for more than 17 years. Lin also seeks unspecified financial damages and reinstatement to his position.
The 58-year-old emergency room doctor was let go after publicizing concerns on his Facebook page and in media interviews about inadequate COVID-19 safety measures taken to protect colleagues and patients at the hospital.
Legal experts anticipate a wave of COVID-19-related whistleblower lawsuits in coming months, as employees return to the workplace.
The U.S. Labor Department’s workplace safety arm, OSHA, issued a press release in early April “reminding employers that it is illegal to retaliate against workers because they report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Lin is also suing TeamHealth, the emergency physician staffing firm that contracts him with PeaceHealth in Bellingham, as well as the hospital’s Chief Operating Officer, Richard DeCarlo, who publicly accused Lin of spreading misinformation about the hospital.
“Hopefully my actions will bring some publicity to the fact that health care workers for a long time have been repressed and they’re not allowed to speak up for safety because they fear termination and being reprimanded,” Lin told the Associated Press on Thursday.
PeaceHealth spokeswoman Bev Mayhew said that the hospital asked TeamHealth to remove Lin “because he chose not to use designated safety reporting channels, and his actions were disruptive, compromised collaboration in the midst of a crisis, and contributed to the creation of fear and anxiety among staff and the community.”