LOS ANGELES -- Kaiser must pay $3.9 million to one of its former doctors for wrongfully firing and defaming him after he tried to improve medical standards at the Hollywood hospital, a jury ruled Monday.
The all-male Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about one and a half days in Dr. Michael Martinucci's lawsuit before finding his allegations of wrongful termination, failure to promote and defamation, all true.
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Dr. Keith Terasaki and Don Bruzzi, a Kaiser human resources official, all are jointly liable for Martinucci's damages, said the physician's lawyer, Charles T. Mathews.
KFHP bills itself as the nation's largest health-maintenance organization and exercises total control over SCPMG, according to the lawsuit.
"This was a great victory not only for Dr. Martinucci, but for all doctors who have stood up against HMOs," Mathews said after the verdict was read.
The $3.9 million represents the total for Martinucci's past and future wage losses, plus his damages for past and future pain and suffering.
The four defendants also were found to have acted with malice, triggering a second phase of the trial set to begin Wednesday on whether Martinucci should be awarded punitive damages.
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Martinucci, a radiologist, alleged that he was met with resistance when he tried to improve the work standards of technicians and clerks at the Kaiser Sunset hospital in Hollywood. He had been hired in January 2003.
When Martinucci complained, Terasaki, the head of his department, told him it was more important to get along with the staff than to be an extraordinary radiologist, according to his lawsuit.
Martinucci then became the subject of false accusations that he was racist and had made sexual advances at a male technologist, according to his lawsuit.
Among the defamatory remarks falsely attributed to Martinucci were that he wanted to fire all black employees in his department; that he did not like it when blacks dyed their hair certain colors; that Filipinos were dumb as a box of rocks and that Salvadorans have nice legs, but are not very smart.
Martinucci alleged he was forced to resign in February 2006 under threat of being fired if he did not do so.
Martinucci, who said he is heterosexual, was accompanied to court daily by his girlfriend. She was present for Monday's verdict, although he was not.
Kaiser lawyer Kenneth Pedroza was not immediately available for comment. But he said during final arguments in the trial that there was ample evidence to support the allegations against Martinucci.