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Edwards v. Geisinger Clinic

March 6, 2009

PHILIP EDWARDS, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GEISINGER CLINIC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Now before the Court is Defendant Geisinger Clinic's ("Geisinger") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 12). For the reasons set forth in detail below, the Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

The Court has jurisdiction in this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332.

BACKGROUND

On September 4, 2008, the Plaintiff, Dr. Philip Edwards, filed a Complaint (Doc 1) initiating the present action. In the Complaint, Dr. Edwards alleges the following.

Dr. Philip Edwards is a citizen of the United Kingdom and is a licensed physician specializing in interventional radiology. (Compl., Doc. 1 ¶¶ 1, 5, 6.) Dr. Edwards was recruited for employment with the Geisinger Clinic in Danville, Pennsylvania in early 2006. (Id. ¶ 7.) At the time Dr. Edwards joined Geisinger, he and the chair of the department, Dr. Dominick Conca, discussed and agreed that it was their mutual intent for Dr. Edwards, through his employment with Geisinger, to become eligible for certification by the American Board of Radiology ("ABR"). (Id. ¶ 8.) Certification by the ABR is a prerequisite for many professional and academic appointments in the United States. (Id. ¶ 10.) Moreover, Geisinger has a policy requiring all staff physicians hired after January 2002 to become board certified. (Id. ¶ 11.)

In order to satisfy the prerequisites for board certification, Dr. Edwards needs to complete four (4) years of uninterrupted practice in a hospital with an approved residency program. (Id. ¶ 12.) Since Geisinger was in need of interventional radiologists, Drs. Conca and Edwards agreed that Geisinger would create a four (4) year program for Dr. Edwards that would meet the ABR requirements. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) It was further agreed that Dr. Edwards would be given a medical staff appointment at Geisinger Medical Center. (Id. ¶ 14.) Upon agreeing to this program, Dr. Conca communicated with the ABR, notifying them that Dr. Edwards was committed to a four (4) year program. (Id. ¶ 15.) In a letter to Dr. Edwards, dated July 5, 2006, Dr. Conca stated that Edwards' board certification would proceed as described by the ABR and that Dr. Edwards would be granted four (4) to six (6) years from the date of employment to obtain board certification. (Id. ¶ 16; July 5, 2006 Letter to Edwards from Conca, Doc. 1, Ex 2.) Dr. Edwards further alleges that both he and Geisinger entered into their employment relationship with the understanding that they were entering into an agreement for a minimum of four (4) years. (Id. ¶ 21.) Edwards alleges that due to this agreement, during the term of the contract, his employment could only be terminated for cause. (Id. ¶ 23.)

At the time of his employment, Geisinger assisted Dr. Edwards in securing an H1B visa. (Id. ¶ 18.) This is a visa that is valid for three (3) year periods, subject to renewal for an additional three years. (Id.) Dr. Edwards H1B visa is conditioned on his continued employment with his visa sponsor, Geisinger. (Id. ¶ 19.) Dr. Edwards cannot work for another employer under this visa, and if his employment with Geisinger is terminated, he is required to leave the United States within forty-eight (48) hours. (Id. ¶ 20.)

At the time Dr. Edwards initiated his employment with Geisinger, his fiancé (now wife) was employed at Morgan Stanley in the United Kingdom. (Id. ¶ 24.) Understanding that Dr. Edwards' agreement with Geisinger would keep him in the United States for a minimum of four years, his wife arranged to relocate her employment to the United States, and obtained an L1 visa at her employer's cost. (Id. ¶ 25.) Relying on the terms of the agreement between Dr. Edwards and Geisinger, Dr. Edwards' wife made a contractual agreement to remain in her United States-based position until January 31, 2009. (Id. ¶ 28.)

Dr. Edwards alleges that, during his employment with Geisinger, the interventional radiology division has been shorthanded and understaffed. (Id. ¶ 31.) Despite the department's difficulties in meeting the demands of its patients, Dr. Edwards consistently received favorable performance appraisals, and in March of 2008 received an appraisal rating his clinical skills as meeting or exceeding expectations in all areas. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33; Annual Professional Staff Review 1/1/2007-12/21/2007, Doc. 1, Ex. 4.)

According to Dr. Edwards, in late May 2008, a representative of Geisinger accused Dr. Edwards of dissuading candidates from taking positions with Geisinger. (Id. ¶ 34.) Dr. Edwards denies making any such statements. (Id. ¶ 35.) In a letter dated May 30, 2008 from Richard Merkle, Geisinger's Chief Human Resource Officer, Dr. Edwards was notified that he has been involuntarily terminated, effective May 28, 2008, that he had a right to request a hearing and review of this termination in accordance with Geisinger Human Resources policy No. 440, and that his termination was converted to a suspension for up to thirty (30) days during which Geisinger expected to resolve the hearing and review process. (Id. ¶ 36; May 30, 2008 Letter to Edwards from Merkle, Doc. 1, Ex. 5.) Dr. Edwards alleges that Geisinger has never suggested that it had good cause for terminating his employment. (Id. ¶ 37.) Since May 30, 2008 to the present, Dr. Edwards has remained on suspension with pay from Geisinger. (Id. ¶ 39.) In July 2008, Geisinger offered to reinstate Dr. Edwards and he accepted that offer. (Id. ¶ 40.) Upon accepting this reinstatement, Dr. Edwards, through his counsel, asked Geisinger if he could defer his return to work in order to deal with a family medical emergency in the United Kingdom. (Id. ¶ 41.)

Dr. Edwards alleges that Geisinger neither granted nor denied the request, but rather rescinded the offer to reinstate Dr. Edwards and insisted that the hearing and review process pursuant to Geisinger Human Resources policy No. 440 proceed without further delay. (Id. ¶ 42.) Dr. Edwards further alleges that during this hearing and review process, Geisinger did not allow him to have counsel present during an interview, and did not allow counsel to question witnesses or present arguments on Dr. Edwards' behalf. (Id.) Dr. Edwards alleges that this was part of a plan to control the hearing and review process, thereby biasing the result of that process. (Id.) He further alleges that there are no guidelines, standards or procedures governing the conduct of the appeal and review process and that the process is left to the unfettered discretion of the participants, none of whom have any legal training or expertise. (Id.) Dr. Edwards represents that he abided by Geisinger Human Resources policy No. 440 only because he believed that he had no choice but to do so or lose his right to challenge his termination with Geisinger. (Id. ¶ 44.)

And finally, Dr. Edwards states that he has, at all times, been ready, willing and able to return to work at Geisinger and perform the functions of his position. (Id. ¶ 45.)

Dr. Edwards filed his Complaint with this Court on September 4, 2008 (Doc. 1) along with a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (Doc. 2). In this Complaint, Dr. Edwards articulates three counts against Defendant Geisinger Clinic. Count I alleges a breach of Dr. Edwards' employment contract by Geisinger and seeks declaratory relief; Count II alleges a breach of Dr. Edwards' contract for reinstatement by Geisinger and seeks specific performance of that contract; and Count III seeks preliminary injunctive relief against Geisinger's pending termination of Dr. Edwards' employment and salary. On September 8, 2008, the Court denied Dr. Edwards' motion seeking a temporary restraining order (Doc. 5), and on September 12, 2008, Dr. Edwards informed the Court and counsel for the Defendant that he withdrew his motion for preliminary injunction (Count III), without prejudice (Doc. 9). The Court confirmed this withdrawal in an Order dated September 15, 2008. (Doc. 10.) On November 11, 2008, Defendant Geisinger Clinic filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12) the remaining two counts of Plaintiff's Complaint, and on November 18, ...


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