FIRED NEWS ANCHOR SUES STATION OVER STORY
MICHAEL BRAUN, MBRAUN@NEWS-PRESS.COM 8:22 p.m. EDT August 19, 2015
A dispute over a story about medical records has generated a breach-of-contract lawsuit by a former local television news anchor against the station that fired him.
The suit alleges that WINK News fired anchor Matthew Dougherty, 33, on July 27 because he would not destroy notes, video, photos and other information related to a story involving about 100 boxes of patient medical records found in an auctioned-off storage unit.
The records included credit card receipts, shot records, Social Security numbers and other detailed patient information.
Dougherty, who was one year into a three-year contract with WINK, said he had originally been directed by the station to cover the storage unit auction and the discovery of the records.
However, the suit alleges that once WINK news director Russ Kilgore saw that the story involved Dr. Gerardo A. Gamez, his family physician, he directed Dougherty and his producers to “kill the story.”
The suit, filed Aug. 13, alleges that Kilgore ordered Dougherty to conceal what he discovered, ordered him to return computer gear containing information about the story, not speak to any state or federal investigators involved and that the reporter had violated HIPAA and would be in trouble if he spoke about the story.
Further, the suit said Kilgore told Dougherty that he would meet with the doctor’s attorney to ensure him the story would not go public and that in texts to the reporter, ordered him to “gather up all your notes, put them into one big seal-able envelope and get it to me.”
Dougherty said Wednesday that Kilgore’s connection to Gamez is what got the story killed. “The story would have run if it had been another doctor,” Dougherty said.
Kilgore on Wednesday would only comment that the station has not yet been served with the suit and that the issue is a personnel matter.
Attorney Kristen Perkins, representing Gamez, issued a statement from the doctor that said he did not abandon any patient records, that they were stored at an off-site location, not unusual when a physician closes an office and joins another group practice, which Gamez did.
Furthermore, the statement said, “There was an incident involving Dr. Gamez’s record storage, which resulted from a problem with payment for the storage bill after the credit card set up for autopay was stolen.”
The statement added that Gamez took immediate action to secure the records once he was made aware of the problem and didn’t believe there was any improper use or dissemination of confidential patient information.
Attorney Susan Chana Lask, representing Dougherty, said she believes what the station did in destroying video and other evidence of the records was tantamount to obstruction.
“Someone has to wake up and say ‘What? My records are out there,’” she said. “We’re filing because we are protecting Matt’s rights. You can’t just fire someone, not with a contract. Matt lost his job because of the doctor. That’s backwards.”
She added that the suit seeks to recoup Dougherty’s remaining contract salary and his value for future earnings.
He was up and coming. He was amazing,” she said. “How is he going to get a job in the future?”
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