The Virginia Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision ordering the reinstatement-now with more than three years of back pay-of a physician who was fired after complaining publicly about the quality of psychiatric care at a state-run hospital.
W. Harry Horner, M.D., an internist for six years at Western State Hospital in Staunton, Va., was fired on May 15, 2001, for what he called his "unremitting ... protests of inadequate patient care."
Horner unsuccessfully challenged his firing through a state grievance procedure. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he filed a lawsuit in Staunton Circuit Court asking Judge Humes Franklin Jr. to overturn his dismissal.
Franklin ruled that Horner should be re-instated with back pay and all fringe benefits. The Virginia Court of Appeals overturned Franklin, but the Supreme Court held earlier this month that Franklin was correct and threw out the appeals court ruling.
In August 1999, Horner criticized the leadership at Western State and the state Department of Mental Health, saying his efforts to get adequate psychiatric care for patients in his medical unit were like "talking into a void." On March 14, 2001, he wrote the hospital's medical director and said "inadequate patient care persists and demands to be addressed."
Two months later, he was fired for "failure to follow a supervisor's instruction" and "failure to comply with written policy." His immediate supervisor, Michael Clayton, M.D., said in an interview at the time that the charges against Horner "were, the best I can tell, all very contrived."
Horner, who received the highest possible performance rating on his last job evaluation, estimated his back pay, benefits, interest and legal expenses at about $600,000.