Mayo Clinic Professor Sues College Over Free Speech
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A professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science has filed a lawsuit against the medical school after he was disciplined for telling media outlets his assessment of biological men participating in women's sports as trans athletes, and plasma treatments for COVID-19.
Dr. Michael J. Joyner, M.D., an anesthesiology professor, filed the lawsuit Monday in a Minnesota state court in Olmsted County against the Mayo Clinic, Mayo's College of Medicine and Science, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, and Dr. Carlos B. Mantilla, according to InsideHigherEd.com.
The outlet reported Dr. Farrugia is Mayo Clinic's president and chief executive officer. Dr. Mantilla is the chair of the anesthesiology and perioperative medicine department who threatened Dr. Joyner's job in a letter that thrice brought up Dr. Joyner's use of "idiomatic" language.
In his lawsuit, Joyner said, Mayo "ignored its promise of free expression and academic freedom for faculty" when it sought to confine the doctor in public interviews to "prescribed messaging," according to The Star Tribune.
"Free speech and academic freedom do not become less important because of public disagreement or debate," Joyner's 73-page complaint said. "To the contrary, it is precisely during times of intense disagreement that unbiased research and expert opinions of faculty are most in service to the public."
The Star Tribune noted the legal fight puts the internationally renowned Mayo Clinic up against one of its most publicly visible doctors who has given a large number of interviews with media outlets worldwide and who has coauthored 500 medical studies.
CBN News reached out to the Mayo Clinic for comment on the lawsuit. The nonprofit medical research organization replied with the following statement:
"Mayo Clinic feels compelled to refute Dr. Joyner's baseless allegations. Mayo is the preeminent academic medical center in the world in part because it promotes and protects scientific research and academic freedom. The expression of groundbreaking and sometimes controversial scientific opinions — in articles, presentations and media interviews — permeates our 150-year history. In this case, Dr. Joyner is disingenuously invoking academic freedom as a shield to escape accountability for actions that violate Mayo policies and values," the statement said.
"Although Mayo Clinic prefers not to discuss employee disciplinary matters, Dr. Joyner's unfounded allegations leave us no choice. Dr. Joyner has a well-documented disciplinary history. Mayo intends to show that in 2020, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Joyner gave Mayo an ultimatum, demanding that Mayo agree to give him a seven-figure payment within 48 hours. At the same time, he was found to have consistently engaged in rude and disrespectful communications toward coworkers and outside partners. Dr. Joyner received the highest level of disciplinary action short of termination. Dr. Joyner appealed this decision, and a committee of physician peers upheld the discipline, finding that Dr. Joyner did not accept responsibility for his actions and had limited insight regarding his behaviors. Dr. Joyner alleged that his discipline was retaliation, similar to the retaliation claims in his lawsuit. Mayo hired an outside attorney to investigate these concerns. The attorney, who is now a federal judge, found there was no retaliation and that Dr. Joyner had engaged in a pattern of asserting inflammatory allegations grounded almost entirely in speculation," the statement continued.
"The conduct underlying Dr. Joyner's 2023 discipline occurred not in a vacuum, but in the context of his 2020 discipline and the reasonable expectation that he remedy his lack of professionalism and mutual respect for others. Mayo Clinic did not discipline Dr. Joyner for statements he made about testosterone or transgender athletes. Mayo disciplined Dr. Joyner for continuing to treat coworkers unprofessionally in violation of Mayo policy and for making unprofessional comments about the National Institute of Health's (NIH) guidelines for convalescent plasma. Dr. Joyner's comments about the NIH were not the expression of a scientific opinion, as is protected by our academic freedom policy. Instead, his comments were the unprofessional venting of his personal frustration with the NIH's decision not to recommend a therapy he had championed. A committee of Dr. Joyner's physician peers recommended his 2023 discipline, and after he appealed, a separate committee of physician peers upheld the discipline," the statement said.
Kellie Miller, Joyner's attorney, told the Star Tribune the clinic's statement was "a vitriolic, defamatory, and baseless press release from Mayo's PR department."
"Dr. Joyner is currently and plans to remain an employee at Mayo. He hopes his lawsuit will promote positive change at Mayo, restoring trust in an institution where he has worked for 36 years of his distinguished career," she said.
Joyner's lawsuit seeks a jury trial as well as an unspecified amount in monetary damages along with an injunction mandating that the Mayo Clinic abide by its Academic Freedom Policy, its Anti-Retaliation Policy, and its Appeal Procedure and that the clinic cease its retaliation.
Feud Began Last March When Joyner Suspended for One Week
As CBN News reported, Joyner was suspended without pay for a week by administrators, citing his "use of idiomatic language" and comments he made in a June 2022 New York Times article as justification for the disciplinary actions, based on a March 5 disciplinary letter, according to The College Fix.
The letter also told him to avoid speaking to the media unless the Rochester, Minnesota-based postgraduate research university gave him permission.
Dr. Joyner's opinions reportedly "proved problematic in the media and the LGBTQI+ community at Mayo Clinic," according to a letter he received from the college published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) earlier this year.
FIRE took up Joyner's case and sent two letters to the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science on his behalf, The College Fix reported.
In May 2022, Joyner told The Times in an article titled What Lia Thomas Could Mean for Women's Elite Sports that, when it comes to telling the difference between biological males and females, "you see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys," he said. "There are dramatic differences in performances."
Later in The Times article that was updated in June 2022, he said, "There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it… testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla."
Dr. Joyner's comments were picked up by several media outlets and were used in articles about the unfair advantage Thomas had over female swimmers.
CBN News also cited Joyner's statement in an article in May 2022 featuring several medical professionals quoting scientific evidence about testosterone.
As CBN News reported, NCAA rules require at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment in order to compete in women's events. Thomas, who came out as transgender in 2019, had undergone two years of testosterone suppression but still began dominating the sport on the women's UPenn team at the start of his senior year.
Peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that even with testosterone suppression, athletes with biologically male DNA and physiology still have an unfair advantage when competing against biological women.
Other medical professionals also backed up Joyner's statement.
"Lia Thomas is the manifestation of the scientific evidence," Dr. Ross Tucker, a sports physiologist who consults on world athletics, told The Times. "The reduction in testosterone did not remove her biological advantage."
Joyner Cited Science in an Effort to Save Lives
Last January, Joyner also spoke to CNN about efforts to save lives, citing the benefits of convalescent plasma as a treatment for immune-compromised individuals who contract COVID-19. He expressed his frustration with the government and other medical professionals who discount plasma as an effective course of treatment, according to The College Fix.
The Mayo Clinic's letter gave a list of expectations, telling Joyner to, "Discuss approved topics only and stick to prescribed messaging; eliminate use of idiomatic language."
"Failure to fully comply with the expectations outlined above or any additional validated complaints from any staff, including, but not limited to, the issues noted above, or any form of retaliation will result in termination of employment," the letter said.
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