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Age discrimination and medical practice: A case asks tough questions

A 73-year-old surgeon recently filed a case against his former employer. He claims hospital officials discriminated against him based on his age when they had him undergo a neuropsychological and physical exam as well as have a proctor present when he conducted surgical procedures. The hospital executives disagree. They state their requirements were warranted because the surgeon's actions resulted in the death of a patient.

Hospital officials respond, doctor disagrees

After the death, the hospital had three surgeons review the case. Based on their findings, the hospital required the surgeon complete the neuropsychological and physical exams and take a course on medical record documentation before he could continue performing surgeries with their facility. The hospital also required he either abstain from performing lower bowel surgeries or have another proctor at least ten of these procedures and submit to a six-month Focused Professional Practice Evaluation. He refused. As a result, the hospital fired the surgeon.

Court reviews and rules on question of age discrimination

Ultimately, the court held that the physician did not provide evidence to support the claim that the hospital's response was due to his age. In fact, they stated that the hospital officials had provided a "legitimate nondiscriminatory reason" for the requirements and that these steps were consistent with business necessity and job-related. As such, they sided with the hospital.

Take-away lessons

This case provides important lessons for both hospital officials and physicians. State and federal laws make it illegal to discriminate based on an employee's age, race and other factors. However, the law allows employers like hospitals to impose additional requirements for employment as long as they have good reason. Hospitals will generally need to show that they exercised due diligence when taking these steps. If not, physicians and other medical professionals in similar situations could have more success with their claim than was present in this case.

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