Health System Sued By Employee Following Alleged Defamation and Tortious Interference

Plaintiff Matthew G. Friederichs filed suit on Tuesday in the District of North Dakota Eastern Division against defendant Sanford Health. The defendant, Friederichs’ former employer, is a health system that “owns and operates numerous affiliated hospitals and clinics in the Upper Midwest, primarily in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.” He alleges that the defendant interfered with his departure from his workplace.

Friederichs, according to the complaint, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who studied at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Beginning in 2003, the plaintiff was employed as an orthopedic surgeon at MeritCare Medical Group Fargo, N.D. The plaintiff said they signed an employment agreement with MeritCare detailing that either party could “terminate the Agreement, without cause, on 90 days’ written notice.” When MeritCare merged with the defendant in 2009, the defendant effectively became a party in the aforementioned agreement, the complaint said.

The complaint said that after working for the defendant for over a decade, Friederichs used a written notice to tell his employer that he was terminating their agreement beginning on February 28, 2022.

After receiving this notice, the plaintiff claims that the defendant informed him that his last day would be February 25, 2022 and that he would “not be allowed to see any new patients six weeks before his last day.” Despite informing Friederichs of this, days later the defendant allegedly reversed their decision and informed Friederichs that he would not be able to see new patients effective immediately, and that he would not be able to perform surgeries on existing patients after February 10 instead of his actual last day, 15 days later.

The complaint also alleges that defendant sent letters to Friederichs’ existing patients that acted as a letter from Friederichs himself, despite him never authorizing “any such communication to be sent on his behalf.” Friederichs explains that the letter was filled with misrepresentations and false endorsements. When the plaintiff returned to work following a vacation on January 17, 2022, an unusually high number of his patients had cancelled their appointments, which Friederichs attributes to the actions of the defendant.

Friederichs asserts that these decisions by his employer caused him to “lose compensation and further caused damage to his reputation with patients.” The plaintiff sent a letter to the defendant demanding that they cease all communication with his patients and inform him of the names of all the patients to which they had sent letters so that he could send them a “corrective communication.” He had yet to receive a response when he filed suit on January 18, 2022, even though he requested a response by January 18, 2022.

The complaint cites a violation of the Lanham Act, violation of Unlawful Sales or Advertising Practices Act, tortious interference, invasion of privacy (right of publicity/appropriation), defamation, breach of contract, and exemplary damages. Friederichs is seeking injunctive relief, treble and exemplary damages, disgorgement of profits, pre-judgement interest, litigation fees, a trial by jury, and any other relief deemed just by the court.

Friederichs is represented by Felhaber Larson.