Skip to content
Health
Link copied to clipboard

Suit claims Penn dentist was fired for reporting unneeded treatment

The dentist is alleging he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting that a fellow dentist was providing unnecessary treatment to make more money.

Steven S. Pesis, DDS
Steven S. Pesis, DDSRead more(Photo from mypenndentist.org)

A dentist who was fired by Penn Dental Medicine is suing the University of Pennsylvania, alleging he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for reporting that a fellow dentist was providing unnecessary treatment to make more money.

In its legal response, Penn claims it fired Steven S. Pesis because he reviewed patients' records without permission, in violation of university policies and the federal law that protects the confidentiality of patients' medical information.

Pesis' lawsuit is also against Peter B. Kauderwood, executive director of administration for Penn's School of Dental Medicine. The suit, filed in March in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, asks for a jury trial and compensation in excess of $50,000.

A Penn spokesman said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

David F. McComb, the Philadelphia lawyer representing Pesis, said Penn used the federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), "as a means of squelching" a whistle-blower.

In his suit, Pesis says he was hired in February 2012 to work at Penn Dental Family Practice and teach in the dental school on the West Philadelphia campus.

On Nov. 2, 2015, a dentist named Jack Tsai joined the practice. Pesis contends that over the next few days, clinicians in the practice, including hygienists and senior dentists, expressed concerns that Tsai was ordering crowns - expensive molded caps that replace a damaged tooth - when the teeth could be restored with less invasive treatments.

On Nov. 4, Pesis' suit say, he began reviewing patient charts and concluded that Tsai "had engaged in fraudulent and unnecessary treatment." Pesis gave the evidence to his supervisors.

Penn counters in legal papers, "Dr. Tsai is a well-respected, experienced dentist who provides comprehensive dental care to his patients instead of temporarily 'patching' his patients' teeth."

On Nov. 16, Kauderwood sent Pesis a termination letter, informing him that an investigation had "found that you engaged in unprofessional and inappropriate behavior," including HIPAA violations.

Pesis' suit says there was no such violation. Not only are doctors ethically bound to report fraud, but Penn Dental notifies patients that their confidential information may be used and disclosed "to evaluate the performance of our staff in caring for you."

"The termination of Dr. Pesis was wrongful retaliation against him for reporting wrongdoing at Penn," Pesis' suit says, noting that he has been unable to resume working as a dentist because of "false and defamatory statements" about him.

mmccullough@phillynews.com

215-854-2720

@repopter