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Practice Management

How Nonconfrontation Became a Lawsuit

by Mark Opperman, CVPM, Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, MCP
    Doctor with lawyers

    Consider this: A practice owner has one associate and decides to hire a second. The first associate, a woman, is getting paid a salary of $65,000 a year. The candidate for the second position, a man, has an interest—but no formal certification—in dentistry and about the same amount of experience as the first associate. He requests a salary of $85,000. The practice owner hires the second associate at $85,000, and before long, the first associate finds out and requests equal pay. The owner refuses, stating that her production does not warrant that salary and that he has issues with her performance. She files a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a civil suit against the practice for discrimination.

    Could this happen to you? Read on to learn more about this real-life situation that the practice owner has already spent more than $150,000 to defend himself against.

    Dr. Non v. Dr. Strong

    I recently had the pleasure of providing testimony for a deposition in this case. I was hired by the owner of the practice. It seems that the owner—we’ll call him Dr. Nonconfrontational (Dr. Non for short)—hired a female associate and started her on a salary of $65,000 a year. This doctor worked in the practice for 2 years. According to Dr. Non and the team, there were some problems with her: she did not have a very friendly bedside manner; she would leave early some evenings and would not return when the team requested her to; and she took a fair amount of time off, both paid and unpaid. Dr. Non, being Dr. Non, did not discuss any of these issues with her, or, if he did, he certainly did not document them. Our associate doctor—let’s call her Dr. Strong—also did not talk to Dr. Non about any of these issues. In fact, she may not have been aware of them.

    The practice was doing well, but Dr. Non wanted to expand it. He was approached by another veterinarian who had an interest in dentistry and wanted to come on as a full-time associate and develop that aspect of the practice. This new associate, Dr. New, wanted a salary of $85,000; he felt he was worth it, and he said that was the salary he needed if he was going to work for Dr. Non.

    To make a long story short, Dr. Non hired Dr. New. About 3 months later, Dr. Strong went to Dr. Non and asked him why Dr. New was getting $85,000 while she was still only getting $65,000. When Dr. Non asked how she knew Dr. New’s salary, she stated that she had just seen Dr. New’s check stub lying on the desk. Again, she asked why Dr. New was making $20,000 more than she was. Dr. Non was not very communicative, but he told her that Dr. New had a strong interest in dentistry and, in his opinion, would be generating a lot more money for the practice.

    Dr. Strong did not believe Dr. Non, and after several requests for equal pay, she filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC on the grounds that Dr. New was getting paid more because he was male and she was female. When the EEOC denied the claim, Dr. Strong decided to pursue a civil claim against Dr. Non. This is where I came in as the expert witness. This case is still in litigation, so I can’t tell you the outcome, but what I can tell you is that so far, this has been a bitter and ugly fight; both parties have been very much affected both emotionally and financially.

    Could this happen to you?

    The answer is a definite “yes.”

    The links below will take you to articles focusing on the various aspects of the practice that are affected when a case like this occurs. It is my hope that reading them will help you avoid ever facing such a situation yourself.

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