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Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - A lawsuit filed in Olmsted County Court this week pits a well-known Mayo Clinic physician against his employer.

Doctor Michael Joyner claims he faced retaliation for comments he made in media interviews and his actions as a "whistleblower" by reporting a Mayo Clinic business partner's attempt to unlawfully access and use protected patient data. Mayo Clinic CEO Doctor Gianrico

Dr. Gianrico Farruga (Photo Supplied by Mayo Clinic)
Dr. Gianrico Farruga (Photo Supplied by Mayo Clinic)

and Doctor Carlos Mantilla, who chairs the Mayo Clinic Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine are also named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit describes Doctor Joyner as a Distinguished Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo's College of Medicine and Science. It states that in his 36 years at the Mayo Clinic, Joyner participated in hundreds of media interviews, but in March 2023, "Mayo disciplined Joyner for media interview statements regarding his own research and conclusions."

Dr. Joyner vs. Mayo Clinic Lawsuit-Olmsted County Court
Dr. Joyner vs. Mayo Clinic Lawsuit-Olmsted County Court

The court document says the punishment included a one-week unpaid suspension, denial of any salary increase at his next annual review, and the threat of termination. Joyner claims the discipline was due to interviews he participated in with the New York Times and CNN. In one interview, he stated "Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla" while discussing sex differences and sports performance. In the other interview, Joyner complained about the National Institutes of Health's approval process as "bureaucratic rope a dope" and claimed the agency's guidelines discourage doctors from using convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.

Joyner became a champion of using convalescent plasma on COVID patients in the early stages of the pandemic and was named the principal investigator on the US Expanded Access Program for convalescent plasma. His work on its potential attracted national attention.

His lawsuit argues that the disciplinary actions he faced violated Mayo Clinic's "Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Policy." Joyner contends the policy "promises to protect faculty from fear of retribution or retaliation of those opinions and conclusions conflict with those of the faculty or the institution."

The lawsuit also contends that Mayo often describes itself as an educational institution and even went through a protracted legal battle in federal court to secure a designation as an educational institution for tax purposes. Joyner argues being an academic institution carries a promise that "faculty have academic freedom and freedom to publicly discuss the research and expertise."

Mayo Clinic issued the following response to the lawsuit Wednesday evening.

“Mayo Clinic feels compelled to refute Dr. Joyner’s baseless allegations. Mayo is the preeminent academic medical center in the world in part because it promotes and protects scientific research and academic freedom. The expression of groundbreaking and sometimes controversial scientific opinions — in articles, presentations and media interviews — permeates our 150-year history. In this case, Dr. Joyner is disingenuously invoking academic freedom as a shield to escape accountability for actions that violate Mayo policies and values.

Although Mayo Clinic prefers not to discuss employee disciplinary matters, Dr. Joyner’s unfounded allegations leave us no choice. Dr. Joyner has a well-documented disciplinary history. Mayo intends to show that in 2020, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Joyner gave Mayo an ultimatum, demanding that Mayo agree to give him a seven-figure payment within 48 hours. At the same time, he was found to have consistently engaged in rude and disrespectful communications toward coworkers and outside partners. Dr. Joyner received the highest level of disciplinary action short of termination. Dr. Joyner appealed this decision, and a committee of physician peers upheld the discipline, finding that Dr. Joyner did not accept responsibility for his actions and had limited insight regarding his behaviors. Dr. Joyner alleged that his discipline was retaliation, similar to the retaliation claims in his lawsuit. Mayo hired an outside attorney to investigate these concerns. The attorney, who is now a federal judge, found there was no retaliation and that Dr. Joyner had engaged in a pattern of asserting inflammatory allegations grounded almost entirely in speculation.

The conduct underlying Dr. Joyner’s 2023 discipline occurred not in a vacuum, but in the context of his 2020 discipline and the reasonable expectation that he remedy his lack of professionalism and mutual respect for others. Mayo Clinic did not discipline Dr. Joyner for statements he made about testosterone or transgender athletes. Mayo disciplined Dr. Joyner for continuing to treat coworkers unprofessionally in violation of Mayo policy and for making unprofessional comments about the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) guidelines for convalescent plasma. Dr. Joyner’s comments about the NIH were not the expression of a scientific opinion, as is protected by our academic freedom policy. Instead, his comments were the unprofessional venting of his personal frustration with the NIH’s decision not to recommend a therapy he had championed. A committee of Dr. Joyner’s physician peers recommended his 2023 discipline, and after he appealed, a separate committee of physician peers upheld the discipline.

Dr. Joyner’s lawsuit is yet another manifestation of his refusal to recognize or accept responsibility for his inappropriate behaviors.”

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