Mayo doctor sues Clinic, claims retaliation against interviews; alleged whistleblowing
(ABC 6 News) – A Mayo Clinic doctor filed a civil suit against his employer Monday, claiming the institution retaliated against him for comments made in several interviews, as well as whistleblowing.
Dr. Michael J. Joyner filed a 73-page complaint against the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Mayo President and CEO Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, and Dr. Carlos Mantilla, the chair of the Mayo Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine in which Joyner works.
According to the complaint, Joyner claims Mayo Clinic violated its own “Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Policy” when he allegedly received “a one-week unpaid suspension, denial of any salary increase at his next annual review, and the threat of termination for failure to comply with the Mayo Public Affairs (“PA”) Department’s preclearance and oversight of any media interviews.”
According to court documents, Joyner made several potentially inflammatory statements during a previously approved interview with the New York Times on transgender athletes, then an interview with CNN on issues getting plasma treatments for COVID-19 approved by the National Institutes of Health.
Mayo Clinic public relations made the following statement Wednesday, Nov. 15:
“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.”
ABC 6 News: previous coverage of transgender athlete interview
ABC 6 News previously reported on Rochester activists’ response to Joyner’s interview concerning transgender athletes.
Local Rochester MN Pride board member and activist Jennifer Winter called Joyner’s statements “at best, insensitive (and) at worst, transphobic.”
At the time, Mayo Clinic declined an interview, providing a statement that said “While our staff have expertise in a broad range of areas that may contribute to the discussion, Mayo Clinic does not have a position on LGBTQIA+ athletic competition policies.”
Joyner’s complaint references previous coverage, claiming Joyner was interested in speaking to ABC News outside of his role as a Mayo Clinic doctor, but that Mayo Clinic public relations declined the interview on his behalf.
According to the criminal complaint, “In response, Joyner contacted Gazelka stating, ‘It seems to me that the Academic Freedom Policy applies and gives me pretty broad latitude to speak about controversial topics as long as it is clear that I am not acting as an institutional spokesperson or talking about a specific
patient. If you could ask Sharon to re-contact the ABC people I will make sure they understand I am not talking about Mayo or acting as an institutional spokesperson and we can take it from
“Gazelka still refused to allow Joyner to participate in the interview, writing, ‘The Academic Freedom Policy is not absolute and permits Mayo to place limitations on speech, whether you identify yourself as speaking on behalf of Mayo or not…We will not recontact the ABC people.'”
Further claims of retaliation, whistleblowing
Joyner’s complaint argues that as Mayo Clinic benefits financially from its status as an educational institution, violation of academic freedom policies is a legal offense. Joyner also alleges that Mayo Clinic files for grants with the National Institutes for Health as a Not-For-Profit organization, rather than an educational institution.
The civil complaint also alleges that Mayo Clinic president Farrugia attempted to retaliate against Joyner for “whistle-blowing” when a colleague allegedly attempted to misuse protected patient information.
The alleged whistle-blowing incident is not detailed in the criminal complaint.
ABC 6 News has reached out to Joyner’s counsel for more information.