AMSTERDAM -- A medical doctor of Puerto Rican descent has filed a civil complaint seeking $337,972 in damages from Hometown Health Centers, alleging the not-for-profit hired her for a three-year contract due to her ethnicity in order to recruit patients, and then fired her for the same reason before the end of the contract's term.
The complaint was filed by attorney Timothy Elliott of Latham on behalf of Dr. Luz Peguero in Montgomery County Supreme Court. While the filing itself is dated March 19, it was only filed with the court on July 8. A civil complaint outlines the parameters of a civil lawsuit, should the action result in a court trial.
According to its website, Hometown Health Centers is a primary care provider that provides care "...to all in need, with particular concern for low income residents."
The complaint states Peguero was hired by Hometown Health Centers [HHC] of 67 Division St. on June 20, 2017 to a three-year contract for full-time physician services.
"The contract required HHC to initiate and implement an incentive plan in order to provide additional compensation to the employees," reads the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges HHC "repeatedly breached" the contract, refusing to implement the incentive plan, failing to conduct periodic reviews, and then failing to properly notify Peguero of her termination. The court filing alleges HHC, which is owned by Schenectady Family Health Services Inc., never intended to retain Peguero for the full three years of the contract.
"The defendant hired the plaintiff based upon her ethnicity in order to appeal to the largely Puerto Rican patient base in the greater Amsterdam region. Once the patient base was established, they released her in favor of cheaper less costly alternatives," reads the civil complaint.
Elliott argues HHC's contract with Peguero was based on her ethnicity, "therefore her termination is based upon her ethnicity and is therefore wrongful termination."
The complaint also argues a restrictive covenant in the HHS contract with Peguero is "overly broad and creates an economic hardship for the plaintiff." The covenant not only restricts Peguero from soliciting patients to whom she provided medical treatment to while employed by HHC for a one-year-period, but also prohibits her from setting up shop and treating those patients within a five-mile radius of the HHC office.
The complaint states Peguero relocated her family, selling her home in "Sacandaga, New York" in order to take the job with HHC and would now need to relocate again in order to comply with the five-mile radius restriction.
"Given that patients are in need of medical care on a continuous and routine basis, the one-year prohibition effectively constitutes a lifetime prohibition, as the patients will need medial care during the one year period and will need to engage a new physician for their care during that time effectively ending their doctor patient relationship with the plaintiff," reads the compliant.
The complaint breaks down the damages sought from HHC, with $296,692 for the balance of the employment contract, and $41,280 for the relocation damages.
The legal action also seeks lawyers fees and a declaratory judgement declaring the restrictive covenant to be null and void. Hometown Health Centers CEO Joe Gambino said HHC has not yet received the civil complaint.
“We’ll address it when we do,” he said.