Blowing the whistle? 

An expelled student is the latest to allege retaliation Emory

After studying medicine for more than three-and-a-half years, Kevin Kuritzky was 41 days away from graduating from Emory University when he received the news.

He'd been expelled.

Emory claims Kuritzky was dismissed for "plagiarism, repeatedly missing required clerkship training involving patient care, lying to his professors, and engaging in other unprofessional, dishonest and unethical conduct."

But according to a complaint filed Jan. 31 in DeKalb County Superior Court, Kuritzky believes something else was a factor in his expulsion.

Kuritzky claims in the lawsuit that Emory officials kicked him out after he complained about patient safety and possible health care violations at Grady Memorial Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Both medical centers are associated with Emory's medical school.

The lawsuit alleges that Kuritzky was concerned about being left alone and unsupervised while caring for patients at the VA Medical Center for approximately nine hours, and that "persistent tension and hostility" by Grady's staff "negatively impacted patient care." It also states that an Emory official "demanded he retract his statements" about the VA hospital.

The day after the lawsuit was filed, Emory responded with a 43-exhibit motion to dismiss it, claiming the allegations were without merit.

Lee Parks, Kuritzky's attorney, says Emory has hired public relations firm Alisias to handle the Kuritzky case. The firm's clients include the Atlanta Housing Authority and MARTA, and it has a track record of aggressively working to improve companies' images.

Alisias wouldn't confirm that it was handling the case for Emory.

Regarding the allegations, Emory only would release the following statement: "Mr. Kuritzky's claims are frivolous. Emory will address the details of Mr. Kuritzky's claims more fully in court."

Kuritzky isn't the first to allege retaliation by Emory and substandard care at the hospitals. Several former Emory professors and a physician have filed similar lawsuits or have publicly complained in the past. What's more, a federal report has documented substandard conditions at Grady.

But according to documents filed by Emory, Kuritzky suffers from psychiatric issues and behaved in a way unbefitting a doctor -- including saying his mother recently had died when she had not. Attached to Emory's motion to dismiss are more than 150 pages of e-mails, evaluations and documents alleging that Kuritzky lied about absences on several occasions. Three affidavits state that Kuritzky, when confronted about his absences, said his mother had passed away.

Kuritzky denies the allegation. "Emory continued to harass Kuritzky by hiring a private investigator to question Kuritzky's seriously ill mother in California," the lawsuit states.

Emory claims it began receiving complaints about Kuritzky's conduct as early as October 2000. But it wasn't until March 2004 that one of Kuritzky's professors recommended he be referred to the student Honor Council. According to the Emory School of Medicine handbook, a student can be expelled only by the dean of the medical school and only after the school's Honor Council holds a hearing.

The council held two hearings on charges that Kuritzky was dishonest about his attendance at two clerkships and at an outpatient clinic, and that he plagiarized his final presentation for a radiology elective. After the second hearing, on March 14, 2005, the council found Kuritzky guilty of the plagiarism charge, because there was evidence he had downloaded the presentation from the Internet .

The council recommended that Kuritzky lose academic credit for a year, repeat the full fourth year of medical school, agree to a leave of absence, and submit to psychological counseling.

Yet the dean of the medical school, Thomas Lawley, opted for expulsion. "Based on the totality of the circumstances, however, I have determined that the appropriate penalty is expulsion from the School of Medicine," Lawley wrote in a letter to Kuritzky.

Interestingly, at the time of the second hearing, the council's chairman, medical student Gary Wayne Carriker, was absent because he had been arrested -- and is now serving prison time -- for engaging in unprotected sex without first warning his partners that he is HIV-positive. Yet Emory never expelled Carriker for his criminal behavior. Instead, Carriker took a leave of absence after his arrest in November 2004.

In addition to outlining Kuritzky's alleged misconduct, Emory's response to the lawsuit also describes his grade point average as totaling 2.8 -- "placing him in the bottom 12 percent of his class." Kuritzky's lawsuit states that he "consistently earned above-average grades, earned several awards," and had been "promised ... a glowing recommendation" by an Emory physician.

Parks says the university is attempting to make his client look bad. "Emory is trying really hard to cover their ass," he claims.

Over the past decade, Emory and Grady have been the focus of a fair amount of criticism, some of it consistent with Kuritzky's.

In 2000, Emory settled a highly publicized lawsuit with Goizueta Business School professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who had wanted to leave Emory for Georgia Tech after being passed over as a candidate for the dean's chair. Sonnenfeld, who's now a professor at Yale, sued Emory in federal court, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was intimidated into resigning after allegedly vandalizing school property. Emory later admitted there was no proof that Sonnenfeld vandalized the school. But the damage to Sonnenfeld already had been done: Georgia Tech withdrew its $200,000-a-year offer for him to head its College of Management after then-Emory President William Chace called Tech's president and told him of Sonnenfeld's supposed vandalism.

In another case, Emory physician James Murtagh filed a handful of lawsuits in 1999 and 2000 against the university, alleging discrimination, retaliation for whistle-blowing, and breach of contract. Emory's insurance company paid for some of Murtagh's claims, but refused to cover Murtagh's allegation that he was retaliated against for whistle-blowing.

Dr. Samuel Newcom, a former Emory oncologist, caught heat for publicly criticizing Emory in the late 1990s. Newcom had claimed Emory provided inadequate supervision of beginning doctors at Grady, resulting in poor quality of care. Newcom subsequently was suspended, and he fought Emory's numerous efforts to fire him. In an article published in Ethics and Behavior in 2000, Newcom wrote, "I felt that I was being asked to defraud sick people and, as a teacher, to defraud physicians-in-training." Newcom wrote that the university ordered him off campus, terminated his tenured faculty position and changed the locks on his office.

And just last summer, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees the health care programs for the poor and elderly, threatened to cut off federal aid to Grady after an investigation found that the public hospital posed "an immediate or serious threat to patient health and safety."

William Loughrey, a Grady trustee who is familiar with Kuritzky's case, says Grady ought to try to set itself apart from Emory's alleged pattern of "sweeping things under the rug." Loughrey believes Grady could improve its reputation by reviewing complaints fairly -- something he believes the hospital doesn't adequately do.

Instead, Grady vehemently denies such criticism, Loughrey says.

"Whistle-blowers have been unfairly disciplined and maligned by Emory in the past," he claims. "There is a pattern in Emory's litigation of making outrageous allegations."

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