County Sued For Discrimination By A Former Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Nicholas Yphantides is a former San Diego County Chief Medical Officer. He has recently filed a lawsuit against the county Wednesday. He alleged that County Wednesday discriminated against him and wrongfully fired him after taking a medical leave of absence. Dr. Yphantides took the rest due to the strain and stress caused by handling the county’s COVID-19 response.
Dr. Yphantides has been a widespread public presence during the early months of the pandemic. According to him, he was fired for taking a four-week medical leave of absence. Due to the stress of COVID 19, he had insomnia, major depression, and crippling anxiety. Recognizing the symptoms, he took a break on his doctor’s recommendation.
Dr. Yphantides said during a remote press conference that, “From March until October of last year, I focused on issues related to COVID-19 around the clock, But I must be transparent and admit that eventually, the stress became overwhelming for me. I couldn’t run from it. I began suffering from depression and overwhelming anxiety. I lost my ability to sleep. And so, in that situation, I did what I believe any of us would tell our loved ones to do. To take a brief leave of absence.”
To formally announce the case, employee rights attorneys Alreen Haeggquist, Aaron Olsen, and Jenna Rangel of national employment and consumer class action law firm Haeggquist & Eck and Greg Klawitter Ceartas Legal LLP joined Dr. Yphantides during a virtual news conference on Wednesday.
In the complaint filed in San Diego federal court, it was stated that Yphantides took the leave of absence at his doctor’s recommendation. It was further noted that the Dr. was transparent with his colleagues regarding why he was taking time off. According to Dr. Yphantides’s accusation, when he came back to work, he was seen as a “damaged good who cracked under pressure.” by the county leaders. According to the complaint, the county leaders were then just looking for a reason to fire him.
Yphantides believes that the reason he was fired was “because I had sought some emotional and mental refuge from the crushing weight of what all my front-line colleagues were dealing with then, and sadly are now having to experience all over again.”
Upon asking, a county spokesperson declined to answer, saying the county does not comment on pending litigation.
Jenna Rangel, one of Dr. Yphantides’ attorneys, said that “Dr. Yphantides was given two options after the initial leave. The first option was to take a second leave of absence and the second one was to get fired immediately. So, Dr. Yphantides decided to go back on vacation. When he returned in March, he was forced to take a psychological assessment before returning to work.
This assessment is called a Fitness For Duty exam, and according to Rangel, the exam is only needed when an employee is in danger. They can be dangerous for themselves or others in the workplace or “incapacitated from performing their essential job duties.” And none of it applied to Dr. Yphantides. Despite that, Dr. Yphantides was willing to take the exam, but his attorneys allege that he was fired even before completing it. Rangel further said that “After nearly 12 years of faithful service to our county and despite the looming threats of deadly COVID-19 variants, the county callously threw him away because of his disability and because he took time off to treat it, and that cannot stand.”
The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount to cover lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, and attorneys’ fees. The case is also an injunction prohibiting the county “from continuing to engage in unlawful practices.” Dr. Yphantides stated, “If the county can remorselessly dismiss a high-profile and influential chief medical officer like myself because of the strain that I went through trying to save lives, I believe this can happen to any of my heroic colleagues that are still in the trenches serving our region, and so for this reason, I have decided to take legal action and to hold the county accountable.”
In the legal team of Yphantides’, Attorney Greg Klawitter said that the county had violated the laws that allow employees to take mental health leaves. These laws don’t force anyone to choose between their health or livelihood. These laws also do not allow stigmatization of employees with mental or physical disabilities. He further stated that “the county of San Diego broke those laws with Dr. Nick, and it did so without even a shred of remorse. Nine disconsolate months of giving all of himself to the people of this county took an enormous toll on Dr. Nick, and the county leadership repaid its debt to Dr. Nick by ending his career.”
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