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Editor's Page: Guilty ... Until the Charges are Dropped
How do you defend yourself against unfounded accusations?
Dan O'Connor
Publish Date: June 4, 2015   |  Tags:   Editors Page

The story ran in most every major newspaper in the country. It was a headline-writer's dream and a lawyer's delight: "Man Wakes Up From Colonoscopy Wearing Pink Panties." We, too, reported on the allegations contained in the lawsuit filed by a 32-year-old employee of a surgery center who claims that he awoke from a 2012 colonoscopy to find himself wearing a pair of pink women's underwear.

Andrew Walls, who was employed by the Delaware Surgery Center in Dover, Del., as an orderly at the time, said in his lawsuit that he suffered severe emotional stress and mental anguish as a result of the pink panty prank. "The defendants' extreme and outrageous conduct went beyond all possible bounds of decency" and ultimately caused him to lose his job, reads the complaint. The intent, he says, was to "embarrass and/or harass [him] and to cause extreme and outrageous severe emotional distress and injury."

Mr. Walls was seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages and loss of earning capacity as well as punitive damages. Last month, a few days after his story began to unravel during his deposition, Mr. Walls had the good sense to dismiss the trumped-up claims against the surgery center. When Dennis Ferri, the ASC's lawyer, calls the lawsuit "silly, baseless and frivolous," this is what he means.

  • The curious timing of the complaint. Mr. Walls, who Mr. Ferri says was dissatisfied with his wages, let 9 months pass before notifying the surgery center of his accusations. Another 8 months passed before Mr. Walls's lawyer notified the center that he was filing a lawsuit. Mr. Walls quit his job at the surgery center that very day, says Delaware Surgery Center Director Jennifer Anderson, RN, BSN, CASC.
  • The pink underwear. Mr. Ferri says Mr. Walls admitted in his deposition that the pink underwear (oversized briefs, not panties, points out Mr. Ferri) were his, a gag gift that he kept in his locker at the surgery center. "He's the one who brought the panties to the center," says Mr. Ferri. "He said he had worn them around the center beforehand. He was a prankster."
  • The good review. Perhaps strangest of all is that, a few days after the colon-oscopy, Mr. Walls reported all high ratings of the care that he received and had no recommendations for change, says Thomas P. Barnett, MD, FACS, president of the Delaware Surgery Center since it opened in 2002. After he came forward with the accusation, Mr. Walls "failed to cooperate in an investigation our facility conducted in an effort to determine whether his allegations were true," says Dr. Barnett. Ms. Anderson says that Mr. Walls repeatedly declined her request for him to make a written formal complaint.

Mr. Walls may have dropped his case, but he's caused considerable damage to the Delaware Surgery Center. How do you restore your good name and reclaim your reputation for providing excellent, compassionate care? Those pink panty stories will live a long life on the Internet. Mr. Walls's lawyer, Gary Nitsche, didn't return several voicemails we left for him seeking comment. But Ms. Anderson thinks she might have found the proper perspective.

"Anything that goes into a newspaper that's something negative about your facility is upsetting," says Ms. Anderson. "It's an administrator's worst nightmare when something gets in the paper and becomes a PR issue. But I never had any fear that the allegations that were being claimed were true. But this is not just against Delaware Surgery Center. This is against individual staff members who take pride in their jobs. Our staff was very upset that someone would make such accusations."

Ms. Anderson knows she can't unring the bell, as it were, but she's emboldened that the truth came out and that her friends never left her side.

"It's didn't affect our volume one bit," she says, "We had a lot of support from the community."