A former state medical board administrator alleges that making a whistleblower complaint against her previous hospital employer caused her to be fired from the state agency, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed June 2 in Maine’s superior court.
The state, its medical board, and the board’s executive director are named as defendants.
Brenda Gowesky, MD, and her attorneys claim she was unlawfully terminated as medical director of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine after being given just 4 workdays to address job performance concerns.
The whistleblower reports that Gowesky’s made to administrators concerned unsafe emergency department layouts, including “remotely located and poorly monitored exam rooms” for psychiatric patients that led to at least one “avoidable” suicide. Gowesky says her complaints were not addressed.
The Maine attorney general’s office, which represents state agencies in litigation matters, did not respond to requests for comment.
Court records indicate Gowesky had previously received positive feedback from medical board leadership, but the feedback abruptly turned negative after her previous employer, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center (NL EMMC) and its parent company, Northern Light Health (NLH), said they did not want her to be involved in any of the board’s investigations because she had filed a whistleblower claim against the healthcare system.
Gowesky served as the chief, lead physician, and medical director at NL EMMC for about a decade before being fired in May 2017, her attorney, David G. Webbert, Esq, told Medscape Medical News.
After making the reports, Gowesky experienced workplace harassment and hostility before being terminated, according to a subsequent whistleblower retaliation complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Federal law offers protections for whistleblowers. It is illegal for employers to retaliate by firing, demoting, or creating a hostile work environment. Gowesky also filed a sex and age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The matter with NL EMMC is awaiting mediation.
The NLH’s attorney requested that the board recuse Gowesky from involvement in reviews of any Northern Light practitioners, stating they had “lost confidence in Gowesky’s ability to be fair, objective, and unbiased,” owing to the outstanding whistleblower complaint, the lawsuit said.
Despite leaders’ reassurance that her job was not in jeopardy, Gowesky alleges that the medical board director, Dennis Smith, became highly critical of her work, commenting on minor mistakes and giving a negative performance evaluation that contributed to her firing a month later.
In March 2020, Smith fired Gowesky for “not being a team player,” according to the lawsuit. He told human resources beforehand that the whistleblower case was consuming “a lot of her attention and emotional energy.”
About a year before accepting the medical director role, Gowesky had applied for a vacant physician position on the medical board. She alleges that once Smith learned of her legal claims against her former employer, he suggested she apply for the medical director position instead, since it did not require her to take an oath of office. Smith is being sued in a personal, not professional, capacity.
Gowesky seeks compensatory and punitive damages, payment of lost wages and benefits, and a jury trial. The case was recently transferred to the federal trial court in Maine, said Webbert.
Steph Weber is a Midwest-based freelance journalist specializing in healthcare and law.
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