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Former chief medical officer sues San Diego County for disability discrimination

Dr. Nick Yphantides.png
Posted at 11:30 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 22:41:55-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – Former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas Yphantides has announced that he is filing a lawsuit against the County of San Diego for disability discrimination after he was fired during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Yphantides was joined by employee rights attorneys Alreen Haeggquist, Aaron Olsen, and Jenna Rangel of national employment and consumer class action law firm Haeggquist & Eck and Greg Klawitter of Ceartas Legal LLP during a virtual news conference on Wednesday to formally announce the case.

According to the lawsuit, Yphantides claimed he was terminated "without providing any reason or justification for doing so" after he "hit a metaphysical 'wall.'"

"In October 2020, Dr. Nick hit a metaphysical 'wall.' The long hours, twinned with the misery and death encountered every day, caused him to suffer from insomnia, major depression, and crippling anxiety (Dr. Nick’s “Disability”), forcing Dr. Nick to take a four-week medical leave of absence.

But when Dr. Nick returned to work, members of the County’s leadership team (who were well aware of the details of Dr. Nick’s Disability, including Dr. Nick’s brief suicidal ideation) viewed Dr. Nick as damaged goods who had cracked under the pressure.

Despite a career-worth of exemplary performance reviews, the County suddenly began to unfairly scrutinize Dr. Nick’s performance, vainly looking for manufactured proof that he was no longer any value to the County.

Not finding any legitimate proof, the County soon forced Dr. Nick to take another leave of absence, vaguely claiming there were concerns about his “mental well-being.” And when Dr. Nick again sought to return to work after another seven weeks of leave, the County unlawfully demanded he undergo an invasive Fitness for Duty (“FFD”) exam that violated the County’s own policies.

Based on information and belief, the FFD exam was a sham as the County had already decided to terminate Dr. Nick’s employment. And indeed, before completing the FFD exam, the County carried out its predetermined plan, unlawfully terminating Dr. Nick without providing any reason or justification for doing so.

At worst, the County punished Dr. Nick because of the social, political, and professional stigma associated with Dr. Nick’s mental Disability. At best, the County punished Dr. Nick for conduct it perceived as being directly caused by his Disability.

From the moment the County learned of the details of Dr. Nick’s Disability, it viewed Dr. Nick and every action he took as if he were a broken employee. Instead of building a bridge to enable Dr. Nick to cross the river of mental and physical fragility to be successful in the workplace, the County burned that bridge and made sure the “broken” employee could not successfully cross back into its workplace."

According to his representatives, Yphantides served as San Diego County’s Chief Medical Officer for 11 years and was one of the county’s first public faces leading San Diego’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

During many county press conferences in early 2020, Yphantides spoke to the public alongside County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten, San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, and other medical experts as COVID-19 spread across the county.

ABC 10News reached out to the County of San Diego on Wednesday morning for a response to Dr. Yphantides' announcement. The county says they do not comment on pending litigation.