Longtime Straub doctor sues his former employer for wrongful termination

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A doctor who worked at Straub Clinic and Hospital for 25 years has sued his former employer for wrongful termination.

Dr. Melvin Chang said there's been a gradual change for the worst in management philosophy at Straub since it was combined with other medical organizations under Hawaii Pacific Health, the entity formed in 2001.

An internal medicine physician, Chang was fired by Straub Clinic and Hospital in March 2011. He and more than a dozen of his patients and friends sign waved outside Straub's King Street headquarters Friday afternoon. The message on some of their signs: "Auwe Straub administration."

"I'm trained to be a good observer and I've observed things that are different from in the past and, I think, not healthy for the current employees and future employees," Chang said.

Chang worked at Straub from 1985 to 2011.  He was medical director of Straub's Kaneohe satellite clinic at Windward Mall for 17 years and oversaw all of Straub's satellite clinics for six years, he said.

In 2005, he switched to part-time status with Straub and went to work full time at the state health department, but kept seeing his Straub patients on weekends and nights.

Chang says he successfully advocated for Straub to keep two senior, higher-paid, minority women Straub employees who were being told to quit or be fired in 2006 and 2007. He was able to convince Straub higher-ups to reassign the women – with 37 and 20 years experience at Straub -- and keep them on the payroll.

"They [Straub management] are too bottom-line focused.  And there is the suspicion that older workers are departing, not by choice, but because they make more money," Chang said.

Then, Chang said in March 2011, his boss told him he was fired from his part-time physician's position because he had "belittled" Straub and inappropriately discussed his involvement with helping an employee keep her job.

"The chief medical officer flat out told me that 'there's not a place for you at Straub anymore,'" Chang said. "He mentioned that because of my prior HR [human resources] involvement, he felt that was inappropriate involvement."

His wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Straub Monday seeks his reinstatement and he says he hopes the suit will help other employees avoid similar treatment by hospital management. Chang is represented by attorney Clayton Ikei, who specializes in employment law, including discrimination and wrongful termination cases.

Straub released a written statement that said, "We are aware of the lawsuit filed by Dr. Mel Chang. Our policy is not to comment on pending litigation."

Chang said other Straub employees fear retaliation for speaking up about problems or advocating for themselves.

"It's do it the way the administration wants you to do or you're out.  And so I think a lot of the employees are afraid for their jobs.  They don't have a lot of mobility because of the tight job market, economy and things like that," Chang said.

Besides, he said he was merely following Straub code of conduct.

"In the Straub standards of conduct, in their handbook, they advise that it's every employee's responsibility to bring something to the attention of appropriate parties within the organization if you think something is wrong," Chang added.

Chang said even though he's no longer an employee of Straub, he has continued seeing some of his older patients or those with complicated conditions in his free time, meeting them in parking lots or in their homes to continue giving them medical care.

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