Former CEO sues New Jersey hospital over 'unlawful' firing

Richard Freeman, former CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (N.J.), filed a lawsuit accusing the hospital of refusing to abide by its contractual obligations in response to his "malicious and unlawful" termination, according to court documents reviewed by Becker's.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 29 in New Jersey federal court, alleges the hospital abruptly terminated Mr. Freeman — purportedly for cause — for allegedly intentionally violating the hospital's sexual harassment policy.

According to the lawsuit, the hospital claimed Mr. Freeman failed to intervene and stop a living art body painting exhibition that was on display at the hospital foundation's fundraising event in June.

Mr. Freeman says he was not involved in planning the event and did not authorize the event, adding that it was organized and authorized by other individuals affiliated with the hospital, the hospital foundation or West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health.

"The hospital ignored those critical facts, as well as the absence of any complaints during the event, and absurdly deemed [Mr. Freeman's] failure to intervene an intentional violation of its sexual harassment policy," the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit added that "it was, without question, a transparent and amateurish attempt to fabricate a justification to avoid having to pay the substantial compensation and benefits required under … the employment agreement for the termination of [Mr. Freeman's] employment without cause, and to expedite senior leadership's goal of eliminating CEO positions throughout the network hospitals within RWJBarnabas Health."

The hospital said in a statement shared with Becker's that it is unable to comment because the case is in litigation.

Mr. Freeman claims his termination was without cause and that his employment agreement would require the hospital to pay him six months of regular compensation and benefits and 12 months of base salary and benefits.

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