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Jury awards UC Irvine neurosurgeon $2 million in whistleblower retaliation case

Jury awards UC Irvine neurosurgeon $2 million in whistleblower retaliation case
A jury awarded $2 million in damages to UC Irvine neurosurgeon Mark Linskey, who alleged he was retaliated against for filing a grievance against his supervisors. (Getty Images)

An Orange County jury awarded $2 million in damages this week to a UC Irvine neurosurgeon who alleged in a lawsuit that the University of California Board of Regents and the former dean of UCI’s School of Medicine violated whistleblower protection laws when he was retaliated against for filing a grievance against his supervisors.

“I am incredibly relieved to finally be vindicated now six years after the event and 2.75 years since having to file a lawsuit,” plaintiff Mark Linskey, a tenured professor of neurological surgery, said in a statement following Monday’s verdict.

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The lawsuit, filed in June 2016, alleged that defendant Ralph Clayman, former dean of the medical school, along with Johnny Delashaw, former chairman of the department of neurological surgery, collaborated to oust Linskey from the department in retaliation for a grievance he had filed against them expressing concerns about patient safety and conflicts of interest.

In the complaint, Linskey alleged patient safety was put at risk in June 2012 when vascular neurosurgery cases — surgery done under a microscope on blood vessels in or around the brain or under the neck — were removed from the general neurosurgery on-call service and that future emergency neurovascular cases were reserved for Delashaw and another doctor.

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Linskey said he requested inclusion in the neurosurgery vascular call schedule and was denied. Linskey filed a grievance with the Committee on Privilege and Tenure in March 2013, naming Clayman and Delashaw.

The lawsuit alleged that Clayman retaliated against Linskey by pushing to have him moved from the department of neurosurgery to the department of general surgery. It also alleged that Delashaw threatened residents by ordering them to not assist Linskey during surgery and discouraged verbal communication with him.

Linskey also named the UC Board of Regents in the lawsuit, saying it failed to protect him even after he submitted a UCI Whistleblower Retaliation Complaint Form in May 2014.

Clayman departed as dean in 2014 to be a professor in the UCI department of urology. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday, and his attorneys referred questions to UCI, which declined to comment.

UC also referred questions to UCI.

Delashaw, who left in 2013, was originally named as a defendant in Linskey’s lawsuit but was removed in summary judgment by Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter. That decision is being appealed, according to Gina Fernandes, a spokeswoman for Linskey’s team.

Delashaw could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Litigation is continuing as to whether Linskey can be reinstated to his former position in the department of neurological surgery and the university’s residency training program.

Linskey’s attorney Ivan Puchalt said a judge would hear additional evidence July 22 and make a decision within 30 days.

“[The jury] … only awarded damages for loss of income and emotional distress. They didn’t award future damages,” Puchalt said. “When [Linskey’s] out of his department, his reputation is harmed. It’s kind of like a red flag to anyone in a small community of neurosurgeons to not be in your own department.”

Linskey said he looks forward to “healing this breech, and all outstanding issues, and moving forward with renewed hope and positivism.”

“Despite problems and issues with past, and current, leadership decisions, my loyalty and dedication to UC Irvine as an institution and to training new neurosurgeons as part of the neurosurgery residency training program … have never wavered,” he said.

Delashaw left UCI for a hospital in Seattle, where he faced internal complaints over patient care and a high-volume surgical approach, according to a Seattle Times investigation in 2017. He sued the paper a year later, alleging libel and defamation.

The Washington medical commission suspended Delashaw’s medical license in 2017 and reinstated it the following year. He sued five commission members in December in relation to the license suspension, alleging they had violated his constitutional rights, interfered with his ability to practice neurosurgery and defamed him.

Both of the lawsuits are ongoing.

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