LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles jury rejected a lawsuit filed by a former executive for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. who alleged he was exposed to intolerable workplace conditions and forced to quit because he uncovered corruption within the company regarding its dealings with Medicare.
The Superior Court jury deliberated for less than half a day Wednesday before finding in favor of Kaiser and against plaintiff Cesar Villalpando.
A Kaiser spokesman released a statement Thursday regarding the verdict in the 54-year-old plaintiff’s case.
“Nearly all of Mr. Villalpando’s claims were thrown out by the court before trial, since they were completely meritless,” the statement read. “The single claim that was allowed to go to trial was rejected by the jury, on a quick 11-to-1 vote yesterday. It is unfortunate that Mr. Villalpando chose to make these false allegations, apparently in hopes of financial gain. We are pleased that as soon as the jury was presented with the actual facts and evidence, it rejected Mr. Villalpando’s allegations entirely.”
In her final argument Wednesday, Kaiser attorney Nancy Pritikin, scoffing at any suggestion that Villalpando is a “whistleblower,” told jurors that he was paid $1.3 million annually in salary and benefits, was given promotions and never presented any evidence to support his claims of exposing malfeasance by Kaiser executives. She also said he was rightly criticized when it was appropriate, such as when he was late to an important meeting and when he came up with a plan to move all Kaiser call center operations from California to Georgia.
Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson testified during the trial that he rejected Villlalpando’s suggestion to move the call center operations to Georgia, saying it would be unfair to the California workers even though it would have potentially saved Kaiser money.
Villalpando maintained that after coming forward, he was harassed, isolated and bullied by management. He filed his lawsuit in December 2017, naming Kaiser, Tyson, Kaiser CFO Kathy Lancaster and Kaiser Group President Gregory Adams. Lancaster, Villalpando’s former boss, and Adams testified last week.
Villalpando worked for Kaiser for more than 29 years. At the time of his resignation, he held the position of senior vice president for enterprise shared services.
He alleged in his lawsuit that Kaiser provides prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids to insurance customers in a way that defrauded both them and Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars because of a lack of bidding processes that would make the devices more affordable. As a result, the suit alleged, those insured by Kaiser pay far more for eyewear and hearing aids.
Villalpando testified he bought his glasses at Costco rather than through Kaiser because they were less expensive at the warehouse chain.
The lawsuit also alleged that Kaiser was not in compliance with Medicare rules and regulations that would warrant Kaiser being given a five- star rating when it comes to the prescribing and selling of drugs to Medicare patients.
Villalpando’s lawyer, Charles T. Mathews, told jurors that Lancaster and the rest of Kaiser management resisted his claims of non-compliance because it would have meant returning hundreds of millions of dollars to the government.
Villalpando never doubted the skills of doctors at Kaiser, who he and his family continue to see, Mathews said. Villalpando’s sole concern was doing what was right for the company and he did not believe those in charge were acting in the insurer’s best interests, according to Mathews.