Erlanger lawsuit heats up after first week of arguments

Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson speaks to the Chattanooga Times Free Press after she was announced as the interim CEO for Erlanger hospital following Jim Brexler's resignation.

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Erlanger chief administrative officer Gregg Gentry testified Friday that he worked side-by-side with his longtime friend Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson to investigate Dr. Mitchell Mutter, a cardiologist who left Erlanger in the summer of 2012.

As the hospital's former interim chief executive officer, Woodard-Thompson looked into allegations that Erlanger was paying the traveling expenses for Mutter's Haiti foundation.

But on the fourth day of testimony in her $25 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the hospital, Gentry testified that Woodard-Thompson approved Mutter's hefty severance - even though she was paid only for unused vacation days when she was fired.

A long moment passed before one of Woodard-Thompson's attorneys, Jennifer Lawrence, replied.

"Somebody's not telling the truth here," she said.

Friday marked another intense proceeding in the lawsuit between Woodard-Thompson, the 67-year-old who served as interim CEO between 2003-2004 and 2012-2013, and Erlanger hospital, which terminated its longtime employee during her medical leave two summers ago. Testimony resumes Tuesday morning in Judge Neil Thomas's courtroom.

After the first week of testimony, the case has revolved around the argument that select Erlanger trustees conspired to oust Woodard-Thompson after the interim CEO investigated a series of internal problems in spring 2012 related to Mutter. Start to finish, the case is projected to last four weeks.

During opening arguments this week, Lawrence described Erlanger's board of trustees as a "country-club clique" that took offense to Woodard-Thompson reporting Mutter. The cardiologist had "personal relationships" with board members Nita Shumaker and Phyllis Miller, his lab partner from medical school, Lawrence said. So far, neither Shumaker nor Miller has testified.

Refuting nearly every point in Woodard-Thompson's 2013 lawsuit, Erlanger called the allegations "simply not true." And during opening arguments, Erlanger attorney John Bode suggested Woodard-Thompson filed the lawsuit because her ego was bruised after not being selected as permanent CEO.

Erlanger attorney Randy Wilson and Bode have mostly pointed to Woodard-Thompson's decision not to formally apply for work since her 2013 termination; what they see as her money-driven approach; and the degree of success she had as interim CEO between 2012 and 2013.

On Friday, Bode asked Gentry about the internal investigation, and the steps he and Woodard-Thompson took to reach their conclusion. He asked whether Gentry was influenced in any way by Miller and Shumaker.

"No," Gentry said, "I do not recall that at all."

Contact Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.