Professor sues Queen's for $1M

Plaintiff still teaching at the University

A professor is suing Queen’s for $1 million while still working for the University, the Journal has learned.

According to court documents obtained by the Journal, Dr. David Strum is seeking damages from the University and Kingston General Hospital for continuing breach of contract; misrepresentation and/or negligent misstatement and/or deceit; constructive wrongful dismissal; defamation; breach of the duty of good faith; and punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages.

“The conduct of the defendants as described herein, including the intimidation and the failure to deal
with issues in good faith, is highhanded and outrageous,” Strum’s document alleges.

The University denies the allegations, which have yet to be proven in court, and has countered
with its own claim against Strum.

“The plaintiff has maintained his appointment at Queen’s on an ongoing basis despite his knowledge his appointment at Queen’s on an ongoing basis despite his knowledge that the University denied his claims,” the Queen’s document alleges.

“By remaining at Queen’s, the plaintiff has condoned the University’s denial of his claims and forfeited any legal remedy in respect of his claims...” The case will be heard by a jury, but a date hasn’t been set yet.

Strum is a medical doctor and an associate professor that has worked in the anesthesiology department since January 2000. He declined to comment for this article.

Dr. John Cain, head of the anesthesiology department, said two or three cases have come before the Faculty of Health Sciences’ arbitration committee in the last 10 years.

“But a real suit against your employer is quite rare,” he said. Cain said Strum has given his version of the events, and the University has given theirs.

“The documents stand for themselves,” he said. “There’s obviously two different views of the universe.”

According to Strum’s statement of claim, he was recruited by Queen’s in part to increase the amount of research done in the anesthesiology department. He alleges that he left a secure position at the University of Arkansas, and declined other universities’ attractive offers to come to Queen’s.

“The plaintiff [Strum] received written and verbal assurances from the defendants [Queen’s and KGH]
that any commitments made to him would be honoured,” the document states.

In December 1999, Strum alleges that Cain offered him a job with a number of provisions:

  • He would earn $270,000 per year.
  • His would spend 60 per cent of his time on clinical work in KGH’s operating room and intensive care unit and 40 per cent of his time on research.
  • He was guaranteed a $30,000 research grant.
  • He was promised a $50,000 research grant from KGH.

According to his claim, Strum voiced his concern about not getting his guaranteed research time, but Cain told him: “You will get your protected time. We are not in the business of making attractive
offers and reneging once the recruit arrives.”

Strum accepted the employment offer and started working for Queen’s in January 2000. One month after he started working, Strum alleges that his income was reduced after the anesthesiology department introduced a new system for calculating clinical time spent in the hospital.

Strum alleges that the new call system assigned inadequate value to a doctor attending patients in
the hospital’s intensive care unit and substantially increased the value for clinical duties in the
operating room.

“Despite [Strum’s] best effort, he continued to accumulate ‘call deficits’ under the new accounting
system, for which he continues to be punished financially,” Strum’s claim states.

But the Queen’s statement of defence said the changes made to the department’s call structure were made by the department as a whole. Strum participated in the change process and agreed with the result.

“The changes made in 2000 were reasonable and operationally sound,” the Queen’s statement states. “They were not arbitrary, they were not engineered by the head of the anesthesiology department, and they did not place ‘artificially’ high values on some call or inappropriately undervalue other call.”

According to Queen’s statement of defence, when Strum accepted his position, he knew about
specific information regarding his employment, including the following:

  • Queen’s would pay $50,000 of his salary; the remaining $270,000 would be dependent on his level of activity in the hospital.
  • Strum’s professional earning would be paid by the Ministry of Health through a funding agreement between the ministry and an organization formed “to enable the University, participating hospitals and clinical teachers to work interdependently to meet their clinical service, teaching, research and associated management responsibilities.”
  • The compensation system was a “collegially-determined” system, and the performance of call work was a significant factor in his level of activity and compensation.

According to the Queen’s statement, Strum’s preference not to perform “first call” duties—working a 14-hour shift at the hospital and being the first to provide service when called—would reduce his compensation.

“There was sufficient other call work available for the plaintiff to replace the income that would have flowed from working first call in the operating room,” the statement alleges.

“Since the commencement of his appointment, the plaintiff has refused or otherwise failed to perform the other call work that was available to him. “The plaintiff’s level of activity has not met the standard of the department in any of the years since he began work in January 2000, and as a consequence his
compensation has been less than he could have earned.

“The plaintiff received notice of his call deficits and timely opportunities to remedy them.”

Moreover, according to Queen’s statement, Strum has earned $270,000 or more since 2000 and
hasn’t suffered any damages.”

“Contrary to the allegations made by the plaintiff, there has been no breach of contract on the
part of Queen’s.
“The plaintiff was fully compensated for the work he performed, and the University has compiled with all its obligations to the plaintiff.”

In 2002, Strum received the Arthur Bond Scholarship, a “prestigious” external scholarship worth $100,000 in research money over two years plus $15,000 for expenses.

Strum alleges that the anesthesiology department used the money to supplement his income, instead of allowing the grant to be used for research alone—a stipulation to which Queen’s agreed.

“When the plaintiff complained about the inappropriate use of the Arthur Bond Scholarship, the
defendants threatened him with a possible reduction in hospital privileges and arbitrary termination
of his tendered appointment,” Strum’s claim alleges.

But the University’s statement of defence said the scholarship’s salary support funded the clinical
services that other anesthesiologists would have to perform while Strum devoted more time to research.

“Salary support is a means to support increased academic research time; it is not intended to enrich a faculty member’s compensation,” the document said, adding that the University’s conduct was reasonable and proper, and consistent with practice and procedure.

Since April 2001, Strum alleges that the members of the University and KGH have made defamatory
statements about him. His claim alleges that in July 2001, a University employee wrote, “Dr.
Strum had advertised himself as having clinical skills in cardiothoracic anesthesia ... can be viewed, at best, as an exaggeration and, at worst, a fraudulent claim.”

The quotation came from a 20-page submission sent from Cain to the Chair of the Appeal Committee.
The claim alleges that the remarks “disparaged” his character and reputation in the medical and
university community.

“The Plaintiff has been greatly injured in his character, credit and reputation and has been held up to public scandal, ridicule and contempt.”
“The Plaintiff has suffered great distress, embarrassment, loss of reputation, humiliation and
financial loss.” Queen’s denies that either it or its agents have at any time made false and defamatory statements to Strum.

Despite “unparalleled” research productivity, Strum hasn’t yet received the $50,000 research grant promised to him, his claim states. And on several occasions, Strum alleges that Queen’s and KGH cancelled protected research time, which decreased funding opportunities for Strum.

Moreover, he alleges, Queen’s “arbitrarily and improperly” reclassified research time as vacation time in order to penalize him unfairly.

In 2001, Strum requested a review of research time and compensation, and the Faculty of Health Sciences formed an Appeal Committee and heard Strum’s case. The Queen’s statement said the committee ruled that it was inappropriate for Cain to refer to an incentive without written assurance from KGH.

The committee offered to replace the $50,000 provided that they receive a research proposal from Strum. Strum declined the offer, the document alleges, and declined to pursue other manners of appeal. David Walker, Faculty of Health Sciences dean, declined to comment for this article.

The next step in the civil suit will give both parties the chance to examine each other’s case and to
clarify the issues before trial.

Cain told the Journal: “It’s something which Dr. Strum obviously doesn’t want to see happening, and something which I as head of a department don’t want to see happening, and something that the University doesn’t want to see happening.”

“Yet we seem to have it happening.”

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