By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin

St. Charles Health System denies nearly all of the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed by a cardiothoracic surgeon who claims he was fired because of mental impairment.

Dr. John Blizzard, whose sudden departure in November caused heart and lung surgeries to be temporarily diverted to Portland, is seeking more than $14.5 million in federal court. He says St. Charles failed to accommodate his disability, discriminated against him and unlawfully required him to undergo psychological testing.

St. Charles’ attorneys address each allegation individually in their formal response to Blizzard’s complaint, often with the simple line, “St. Charles denies the allegations in paragraph …” St. Charles rejected Blizzard’s assertion that he has a disability and that his mental impairments limit his ability to interact with others and regulate his emotional responses. Blizzard’s complaint did not cite a specific diagnosis.

The health system’s response says it has a “bona fide policy” against discrimination and retaliation that was enforced in Blizzard’s case. It even denies the complaint’s assertion that Blizzard was respected by medical staff and that patients were fond of him, writing that those statements “are vague and unclear and allege states of mind regarding unspecified medical staff and unspecified patients and therefore are denied.”

Greg Lynch, the Bend attorney representing Blizzard, said that’s inconsistent with his client’s reputation.

“That denial is not an accurate reflection of what I believe St. Charles felt about John and his relationship with the hospital,” said Lynch, a partner in the firm Lynch Conger McLane LLC.

Before his termination, Blizzard was St. Charles’ only full-time cardiothoracic surgeon. He was among the hospital’s highest-paid employees. In 2014, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, his base salary was about $942,000, and his total compensation, including things such as retirement pay and other benefits, surpassed $1 million.

Francis Barnwell, one of two attorneys with the Portland-based firm Bullard Law representing St. Charles in the case, wrote in an email that hospital policy precludes him from commenting on pending litigation.

A judge in September said both parties can deem materials presented “confidential” and thus not available to the public. The case will likely involve sensitive information, including personnel investigations, medical records and proprietary information about St. Charles, according to court documents.

Court documents filed online list a Dec. 16 deadline for parties to gather all materials that will be used in the case. A trial date has not been set, but court documents list a mediation agreement deadline of Jan. 16 and a Jan. 23 deadline for either party to request a summary judgment, an order that means the case won’t move forward.

Lynch said he believes those deadlines will be extended.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304, tbannow@bendbulletin.com

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