Top administrators at the University of California Irvine Medical Center were fired for allegedly retaliating against employees who reported physician misconduct at the center's fertility clinic.
Their attorney says they are being "falsely accused of retaliation" and questions a UCI $900,000 settlement with three whistleblowers.
The whistleblowers charged, among other things, that physicians were implanting eggs and embryos into patients without consent of donors.
UCI Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening announced June 22 that the appointments of Mary Piccione, the medical center's executive director, and Deputy Executive Director Herb Spiwak would end June 30.
An investigation showed that after the whistleblowers reported the improprieties, they were "treated poorly" by medical center management and clinic physicians and subsequently fired, said UCI spokeswoman Fran Tardiff.
The investigation was conducted by attorneys from the University of San Diego and by an independent panel.
Frank Quinlan, a Newport Beach attorney representing the administrators, said they "absolutely acted on the (whistleblower) complaints and were found in several investigative reports to be exonerated of any attempt to cover up anything."
Quinlan told MODERN HEALTHCARE the whistleblowers "refused to believe" that the administrators were investigating their complaints. He said that eventually "the chancellor took charge of their futures, keeping Piccione and Spiwak in the dark."
One employee was dismissed for unrelated reasons, another was placed on leave by the chancellor and UCI counsel, and the third was trying unsuccessfully to transfer to the San Diego campus, Quinlan said.
UCI paid the whistleblowers a total of $900,000 to resolve their "legitimate employment claims," Tardiff said.
Quinlan said they got the money because they were threatening to go to the press. Their contracts were "not the kind that would result in such large damages," he said.
UCI investigations corroborated the whistleblower charges, and the physicians were placed on paid leave.
One has resigned from the medical staff, but the other two remain on the staff and part of the UCI faculty.
Patrick Moore, an attorney for Jose Balmaceda, M.D., one of the physicians, said: "The university made no effort to distinguish which allegations applied to which physician and never gave them any due process in responding to the allegations. There hasn't been any fairness at all in dealing with this situation."