The former lead physician on a federally funded clinical decision support project is suing his employer, electronic medical records vendor IDX Systems Corp., charging that the Burlington, Vt.-based company retaliated against him for attempting to blow the whistle on an alleged scheme to defraud the government.
Mauricio Leon, M.D., listed in court documents as senior director of medical informatics in the Seattle office of IDX, filed suit Wednesday in federal court in Seattle.
Earlier this month, Leon filed a HIPAA privacy complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights and a wrongful termination complaint with the Department of Labor under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act on corporate governance.
IDX denies all the allegations.
IDX had sued Leon April 25 in the same U.S district court, asking the court to declare that the company would not be in violation of the federal False Claims Act or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for retaliation against a whistleblower should IDX decide to terminate Leon.
In its suit, IDX claims that Leon was an "at will" employee with a salary of $160,000 plus bonus who demanded three years' severance pay and payments to cover his costs of relocating from the Seattle area to San Diego for personal reasons, terms that IDX deems "exorbitant."
Ricardo Guarnero, the Seattle attorney representing Leon, says IDX placed the physician, an anesthesiologist, on unpaid administrative leave on April 25.
"It's our belief he will likely be terminated on the 26th of May," the day Leon's response to the IDX suit is due, Guarnero says.
IDX spokesperson Margo Happer on Wednesday refused to comment on Leon's employment status. The April 25 IDX suit refers to his employment in past tense.
In Wednesday's lawsuit and in the complaint to HHS, Leon also alleges that IDX violated the new HIPAA privacy regulations in the April 25 filing by disclosing personally identifiable health information. The IDX suit last month does list a specific medical condition the company says Leon used as justification for an additional leave of absence.
IDX says in its April lawsuit that "at some point in late 2002" Leon filed a qui tam (or whistleblower) suit against the company, an action that would be under court seal. In the suit today, Guarnero says the plaintiff "in no way concedes or otherwise states that a qui tam action has been filed against IDX."
Earlier this month, Leon filed a Sarbanes-Oxley complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, asking for reinstatement, back pay plus interest and unspecified compensatory damages, according to the Leon complaint and to the IDX 10-Q.In the latest lawsuit, Leon says IDX defrauded the National Institute of Standards and Technology by falsifying documents and lying about plans to carry out an $18 million contract with the Commerce Department agency.
Under the contract, IDX is leading development of the Standards-Based Active Guideline Environment, also known as SAGE, a project intended to bring computerized clinical decision support to the point of care.
According to the complaint, Leon left a job at pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to become senior director of medical informatics for IDX and the lead scientist for the SAGE program in May 2001.
Leon accuses IDX of falsifying documents submitted to Commerce Department officials, lying about plans to carry out the SAGE project and defrauding joint-venture partners, including Stanford University, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and technology companies IHC Health Services and Apelon.
"Later the company practices expanded to gross mismanagement," the suit alleges, including false reporting, false certification, fraudulent billing, covering up evidence and, once Leon complained to IDX management, removing him from any responsibility for SAGE.
The suit cites a Feb. 14, 2002, memorandum to Nick Beard, M.D., IDX vice president of health informatics, in which Leon complained that company management was letting SAGE fail by not giving the project the necessary support or resources.
Eight days later, according to the lawsuit, Beard "answered Dr. Leon's memo largely admitting Dr. Leon's concerns and underlying the fraud and concealment to the government."
In July 2002, the complaint says, Leon brought up concerns with Larry Krassner, president of the Seattle-based Integrated Solutions Division of IDX. But an independent audit Krassner subsequently ordered was never carried out and "harassment" against Leon escalated, the suit contends.
IDX, in its suit against Leon, says he worked on SAGE until "approximately Sept. 4, 2002."
On Sept. 9, 2002, "frustrated and in deteriorating health," Leon offered to resign in exchange for an unspecified severance payment--the one IDX rejected as "exorbitant"--though he retracted the offer two days later, Leon's suit says. He was placed on involuntary administrative leave from Sept. 11 until Oct. 1, 2002, according to the Leon filing.
Following his return, Leon claims he was demoted and later ordered by superiors to "perform actions which were illegal and designed to mislead the federal government," the suit says.
"We believe these allegations are false and without merit," says Happer, the IDX spokesperson. "IDX has taken all appropriate actions in this matter. We have conducted an investigation into the employee's allegations and have found no evidence of wrongdoing."
Happer further says that IDX believes that SAGE "is a great project and it's proceeding as planned."