Pharmacist’s punitive award against Walgreens reinstated

December 12, 2014

Walgreens has lost the latest round in a legal fight involving a Fresno, Calif. pharmacist who said he was fired after blowing the whistle on alleged billing fraud.

 

Walgreens has lost the latest round in a legal fight involving a Fresno, Calif. pharmacist who said he was fired after blowing the whistle on alleged billing fraud.

A federal judge has reinstated a jury award of $1,155,000 in punitive damages to pharmacist Sami Mitri. Three years ago, a jury awarded Mitri the punitive award plus $88,000 in general damages. However, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii threw out the punitive portion.

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An appeals court ordered Judge Ishii to reexamine his decision. And earlier this month the judge ruled that Walgreens fired Mitri because he blew the whistle on alleged billing fraud. “Medicare fraud is a serious crime which affects the financial integrity of a program meant to aid tens of millions of people in need of healthcare,” Judge Ishii wrote in his decision.

A Walgreens spokesperson declined comment on the ruling. Mitri’s attorney, Andrew Jones, told the Fresno Bee that the pharmacist was making about $230,000 a year and could have easily ignored the fraud. “He put his job at risk and stood up against Walgreens. This guy is a hero because he stood up for taxpayers like you and me,” Jones said.

Court documents indicate Mitri began working for Walgreens as a pharmacist in 1996 and was eventually promoted to pharmacy manager for the chain’s Fresno district. He told Walgreens officials about the suspected billing fraud in 2009. He was fired in January 2010 and sued Walgreens for wrongful termination.

According to the Fresno Bee, evidence presented during the 2011 trial revealed that more than 20 Walgreens stores fraudulently billed the government involving Medicare and Medi-Cal patients.

Walgreens, in court papers, argued that Mitri was fired because he repeatedly worked beyond his shift and continued to do so after the company told him to stop.