Erlanger denies former interim CEO's lawsuit claims

Erlanger denies former interim CEO's lawsuit claims

September 4th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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Document: Erlanger Answer to Plaintiff Complaint

Erlanger's answer to the complaint of former interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson.

Document: Memo/Motion to Strike Jury Demand

Erlanger's memorandum and motion to strike plaintiff Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson's jury demand.

Document: Memo/Motion to Dismiss Privacy Claims

Erlanger's memorandum and motion to dismiss plaintiff Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson's claim of invasion of privacy.

Document: Memo/Motion on Punitive Damages

Erlanger's memorandum and motion to strike plaintiff Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson's demand for punitive damages.

Document: Motion to Dismiss Conspiracy Claims

Erlanger's motion to dismiss plaintiff Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson's conspiracy claims.

Erlanger Health System is seeking to have a judge dismiss a $25 million lawsuit filed by the hospital's former interim CEO, saying that her allegations of political conspiracies, threats against her safety and hacking into her computer "are simply not true."

Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson -- who worked at the hospital 21 years and served for a year as Erlanger's interim CEO between 2012 and 2013 -- sued the hospital in July, claiming retaliatory discharge, invasion of privacy and conspiracy, and violation of the Tennessee Disability Discrimination Act.

Not only was she abruptly terminated without notice while on medical leave, Woodard-Thompson claimed, but she had "experienced an array of strange and alarming happenings" during her term as CEO. She claimed she was the target of racial remarks, threats to her safety, and email hacks by the hospital's then-attorney. All this, she said, before she was unfairly passed over for the permanent CEO position during the search process.

But Erlanger's attorney Randy Wilson wrote that to the hospital's knowledge, Woodard-Thompson's "personal safety has never been in jeopardy"; that her files and emails "were never improperly accessed or deleted"; and that she was "never the victim of any unlawful conspiracy."

Erlanger further claimed that hospital trustees did not choose her as a finalist for the permanent CEO position, first because she had not initially indicated she was interested in the job, and second because "her time as interim CEO had not been a success, as multimillion-dollar deficits continued to plague Erlanger's operations."

Neither Woodard-Thompson nor her attorney, Jennifer Lawrence, returned requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

During the CEO selection process, a large group of physicians praised Woodard-Thompson's efforts to turn around the hospital and praised marked improvements in management and physician relations.

Amidst the controversy surrounding hospital trustees' CEO search, Woodard-Thompson said colleagues expressed concerns about her safety, encouraged her to learn to shoot, and urged her to have a security escort and to place her vehicle in an undisclosed location. She followed the advice, she said.

In its response, Erlanger admitted that "several Erlanger officials" and some of their family visited a shooting range, "although the event was neither strange nor startling." Erlanger denies the rest of the claims about safety.

Erlanger also disputed Woodard-Thompson's claim that several top hospital officials -- including a former chief of staff -- said that "medicine is a white man's world."

The hospital addressed Woodard-Thompson's claims that the hospital's ex-legal officer, Dale Hetzler, admitted that he hacked her email.

Erlanger said at the time of her original complaint that it had hired a computer forensics firm to conduct an investigation. The forensics firm found "absolutely no evidence" that Woodard-Thompson's email had been compromised, Erlanger officials said.

The hospital said Hetzler was not fired, as Woodard-Thompson alleged, but resigned.

Erlanger's attorney also denied Woodard-Thompson's allegation that she was denied the opportunity to continue working at Erlanger under new CEO Kevin Spiegel.

"She rejected the offer, stating that she would not work under the new administration," the response claims.

The hospital's response also states that the two parties agreed that Woodard-Thompson would delay her "termination date" with 12 weeks of paid leave, which would end June 23.

Woodard-Thompson said the story went differently -- that Erlanger officials agreed to let her go on leave to complete a medical procedure before making a final decision about retirement. She scheduled those procedures for after June 23, she said.

Erlanger officials say Woodard-Thompson was offered a severance benefit equal to 12 months' pay, with benefits totaling about $486,000, which they said she refused.

Woodard-Thompson has previously said she refused to "take the fat check and walk quietly away," instead saying that she wanted to "make a substantial statement."

Erlanger has requested that a judge review its motion for the case's dismissal on Sept. 16.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.