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HAE Represents Former County of San Diego Chief Medical Officer In Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

September 9, 2021
By Haeggquist & Eck

HAE attorneys Alreen Haeggquist, Aaron Olsen, and Jenna Rangel have filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the County of San Diego on behalf of Dr. Nicholas Yphantides, who led the County’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Dr. Yphantides, or “Dr. Nick,” 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. But that work came at a great personal cost. By October of 2020, Dr. Nick – like so many of his colleagues in the healthcare community – was suffering from crippling depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

 

In a lawsuit filed September 8 in federal court in San Diego, Dr. Nick says he requested and took a four-week medical leave to care for his mental health in October 2020.  But when he returned to work in November 2020, the lawsuit alleges, members of the County’s leadership presumed Dr. Nick was damaged goods. The County then began to unfairly scrutinize Dr. Nick’s performance, looking for proof to substantiate its illegal presumption. In January 2021, despite effectively leading the County through the holiday induced COVID spikes, the County forced Dr. Nick to take another leave of absence for his “mental health” or face immediate termination. Left without meaningful choice, Dr. Nick took an additional seven weeks of leave. But, before Dr. Nick could resume his job duties, the County then demanded he take a fitness for duty test – a request that Dr. Nick’s legal team says violated the County’s own policies and the law.  Before that exam could be completed, the County fired him without providing any reason for doing so.

 

“To put it simply, Dr. Nick is a healthcare hero,” Aaron Olsen, one of the attorneys representing Dr. Nick, says. “After years spent deftly guiding the County through its response to not one but multiple public health crises – and after devoting months of his life to serving on the front lines of the COVID19 pandemic – he should be applauded for putting his mental health first. He was transparent and genuine with the County of San Diego when he shared what he was going through – and in response, they fired him. This cannot stand.”

 

The case is pending in United States District Court in San Diego. MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA: please email media@haelaw.com to schedule an interview on this case.