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Federal Judge denies Greenwood Leflore Hospital's request to dismiss Dr. Preston Boles' race discrimination case

Tuesday, December 27, 2022, 6:20 pm News Flash Archive

This morning, United States District Judge Debra M. Brown rejected the request by the Greenwood Leflore Hospital (GLH) to dismiss the racial discrimination lawsuit filed in 2021 by Dr. Preston Boles.

The court's order may be seen here: Order Denying GLH's Request to Toss Dr. Boles' Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

In the lawsuit, Dr. Boles alleged that the hospital paid Dr. Joseph Assini, a fellow podiatrist, at a higher rate per procedure, because of his race. Assini, who passed away in May 2021, was white, while Dr. Boles is black.

In the complaint, there is no allegation of misconduct or impropriety by Dr. Assini.

See our previous reporting here: Dr. Preston Boles sues Greenwood Leflore Hospital, claims racial discrimination

In 2019, Boles claims he discovered that he was being paid at a lower rate than was Dr. Assini. Generally, the podiatrists were compensated by the "WRVU", or "work relative value unit," a method of grading and valuing medical procedures used by most payors to determine provider compensation. One common way for hospitals to compensate employee providers is to pay a certain dollar rate per WRVU worked.

One of the reasons this issue rankled Boles so much is his claim that the hospital went to some lengths to keep the salaries and bonuses a secret between the two doctors.

This is in keeping with the lack of transparency at GLH, which refuses to disclose employee salaries, compensation packages, and many other contracts that would normally be a matter of public record in any other government operation. Even as GLH is almost completely out of cash, it still jealously guards the secrecy of its business operations from the public and its employees.

Boles asserts that he was being paid $45 or less per WRVU, while Assini was being paid $52 per WRVU. During the period 2013 through 2019, Boles claims he was paid around $212,000 less than Assini would have been paid for the same amount of work done.

GLH argued that Boles could not prove that racial animus was the driving factor behind the pay disparity between Boles and Assini. Instead, the hospital pointed out that Boles simply was not as productive as Assini, that is, that Assini worked more WRVUs than did Boles each year.

But that does not explain the lower rate of pay per WRVU that Boles received. The hospital insists that the rate of pay per WRVU is set based upon a doctor's expected productivity. So if a doctor is expected to produce fewer work units, then not only is his base pay set lower (as one would expect), but also his rate paid per WRVU is set lower.

There doesn't appear to be a rational reason why the rate per unit worked should be different between staff members doing similar types of work.

For his part, Boles argues that this explanation of the pay disparity is pretextual, that it is a subterfuge to justify, after the fact, that he was paid less per unit of work than his white colleague. He points out that even when his expected productivity and base salary were raised, his rate of pay per work unit done was not raised, which contradicts the hospital's explanation for why his rate was lower than his colleague's.

The court agreed with Boles' arguments:

... because Boles, who is black, presented substantial evidence that the Hospital's proffered reason for the pay discrepancy between him and a white comparator is pretextual, the Hospital's summary judgment motion will be denied.

The court worked its way through the multi-step test used to decide whether a racial discrimination case such as this can survive to be brought before a jury. First, Boles is a member of a protected class, because he is black. Second, Boles was paid substantially less than his white colleague Dr. Joseph Assini. Third, GLH has provided a "non-discriminatory explanation" for this disparity in wages.

But the last step in the determination is whether Boles has provided evidence that GLH's explanation is "pretextual," and may mask a racial basis for the pay disparity. If so, then it must be heard by a jury to decide the truth.

The court quoted a previous case:

Evidence demonstrating that the employer's explanation is false or unworthy of credence, taken together with the plaintiff's prima facie case, is likely to support an inference of discrimination even without further evidence of the defendant's true motive. No further evidence of discriminatory animus is required because once the employer's justification has been eliminated, discrimination may well be the most likely alternative explanation.

The court then went on:

The Court agrees with Boles that the comparison of his contracts with Assini's discredits the Hospital's argument that the conversion factor is determined by productivity. As discussed above, when Assini's WRVUs decreased, his conversion factor [rate of pay per unit worked] increased; however, when Boles' WRVUs increased from 2,500 to 4,285, his conversion factor remained $45.00.

Additionally, if Boles and Assini achieved the same productivity under their respective contracts, Assini would still earn significantly more.

For instance, under the payment schedule in place for Boles from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021, had Boles completed 4,800 WRVUs, he would be entitled to his base salary of $215,000, plus incentive compensation of $45.00 per WRVU for WRVUs over 4,285 .... So his total compensation would be $238,175.00 for 4,800 WRVUs.

Had Assini performed the same number of WRVUs under his contract, he would have received his full base salary of $250,000.00. And for each additional WRVU Assini performed over 4,800, he would be paid $52.00 while Boles was only paid $45.00, further increasing the pay disparity for the same amount of work.

Because the contracts contradict the Hospital's proffered reason, a reasonable jury could find the Hospital's proffered reason for the difference in pay is pretextual. Under these circumstances, summary judgment in the Hospital's favor is not warranted.

The court did agree to dismiss Dr. Boles' "breach of contract" claim, as he had voluntarily abandoned it based upon the discovery that was produced during the litigation.

Dr. Boles' discrimination case against GLH is scheduled for trial by a jury starting January 23, 2023 at 9:45 AM at the Greenville Federal Courthouse.

To view the arguments made by Boles and GLH, see here:

GLH Motion for Summary Judgment against Boles

Boles Opposition to GLH Summary Judgment Motion

To review our reporting on GLH and its financial woes, please see here: Index of Greenwood Leflore Hospital news articles

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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