WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WANE) Lutheran Health Network’s defamation lawsuit against its former CEO will stand, a judge ruled Friday.
The Circuit Court for Williamson County, Tennessee, on Tuesday denied Brian Bauer’s motion to dismiss the case and decided it has jurisdiction to hear the claims against Bauer. But the court also sided with Bauer’s legal team dismissing a protective order that CHS filed to block the deposition of CEO Wayne Smith. Bauer told Newschannel 15 this is significant and means Smith will be required to answer questions in the case.
Friday’s decision means the case will go forward in Tennessee. The claims, as detailed in a lawsuit filed in Tennessee (where LHN owner Community Health Systems is based) in November, argue that Bauer as Lutheran’s CEO breached his contract with the health network and defamed and disparaged the health network by “interfering with existing and prospective business relationships.”
The suit claims Bauer engaged in “unlawful conduct” after the failed bid by threatening to harm Lutheran’s business. In a “long-planning scheme,” Bauer disrupted Lutheran’s normal business, interfered with patient, customer and physician relations, and “(sowed) the seeds of unfounded fear with hospital staffs and, no doubt, patients,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also alleges that Bauer, from October 2016 and even after his firing in June 2017, spread confidential and proprietary information about CHS’s affiliates to competitors under a fake Facebook account.
The suit claims Bauer did so to drive Lutheran from the Fort Wayne market to advance his own economic interests.
From the beginning Bauer has emphatically denied the claims made by his former employer. He told NewsChannel 15 there was no breach of contract and there was never a “no compete” agreement.
Bauer was fired in June as Lutheran’s CEO after a group of 10 physicians put in a bid to buy the hospital system. CHS rejected the $2.4 billion offer.
The suit asks the court to award Lutheran compensatory and punitive damages in an amount determined at trial, and require Bauer to cease all activities in violation of his contract, including making defamatory statements.
Bauer responded to the latest developments through a statement sent to Newschannel 15 saying,
“I’m thankful for Fort Wayne and our community that two portions of this baseless suit were dismissed today and confident of a similar outcome for the remainder of the lawsuit now that we are able to begin telling our side of the story. I am also pleased that the court has rejected CHS’ CEO’s attempt to avoid answering questions under oath. As always our focus should be on our patients, providers and our community and it is my wish soon we can all move on from this. I remain very excited and confident about the future of healthcare in Fort Wayne.”
NewsChannel 15 will continue to follow this case in Tennessee.