Doctor who helped halt COVID 'misinformation' law sues Stanford for punishing 'political activity'

University didn't care he was violating booster mandate — and doesn't enforce it on others — until his activism against mandates got too prominent, suit says.

Published: March 15, 2023 5:39pm

Updated: March 15, 2023 11:06pm

A California pediatric emergency room physician who helped secure an injunction against the state's medical misinformation law on First Amendment grounds is now going after his own institution for alleged labor violations based on his public criticism of COVID-19 policy.

Ram Duriseti alleges that Stanford Health Care, part of the university's School of Medicine and his employer of two decades, functionally ignored his noncompliance with its COVID booster mandate "until he engaged in political activity that SHC deemed intolerable," according to his lawsuit, filed by Republican superlawyer Harmeet Dhillon's firm.

Chief of Staff Jay Shah told Duriseti Nov. 11, a day after he asked for "an update on his clinical status" and several weeks after "disinformation" activists publicly targeted him, that SHC had actually suspended him for noncompliance on its latest deadline of Aug. 12.

Suspension would convert to "voluntary resignation" the next day, Shah allegedly told Duriseti, who remains a clinical associate professor at Stanford and has a PhD from its engineering program. 

Given that six months had passed between SHC's original, unenforced deadline and subsequent Aug. 12 deadline, the suit claims the mandate was selectively applied against Duriseti in violation of California labor laws because other unboosted employees continue working with no consequences.

While he held out on primary-series vaccination because of his low risk for COVID complications and lack of evidence it could stop transmission, Duriseti eventually complied with SHC's mandate by taking Johnson & Johnson's traditional vaccine, which the CDC now discourages, and got COVID anyway.

Duriseti twice requested an exemption from mRNA boosting, however, because of increasing evidence of its higher association with myocarditis in his male age range and his history of heart inflammation, which could threaten "the two households he supports," the suit claims. Though twice denied, Duriseti says he faced no consequences until his termination.

Omicron variant-targeting bivalent boosters have consistently underperformed against expectations in independent studies, most recently by Finnish government researchers. Their March preprint, not yet peer-reviewed, found "signs of waning" two months after boosting in ages 65 and up and no reduction of severe outcomes in "chronically ill" adults under 65.

They are still mandated at several colleges, however, including the University of California System. The lawsuit claims Stanford withdrew the policy behind the booster mandate after his second denied exemption.

Stanford Med has "structural conflicts of interest" that inform its COVID mandates and retaliation against Duriseti, his suit claims, citing the leading role of pediatric infectious disease chief Yvonne "Bonnie" Maldonado.

She has a "close working relationship with Pfizer" — overseeing its pediatric vaccine trials, receiving "grant and research support" and serving on its Drug Safety and Monitoring Board — and played down emerging myocarditis reports as SHC started enrolling children under 12 into Pfizer's vaccine trial, Duriseti says.

The lawsuit traces SHC's alleged sudden interest in enforcing the booster mandate to Duriseti's increasingly public profile on COVID policy, which he compared to the hostility faced by his Stanford Med colleague Jay Bhattacharya for cowriting the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration, which Duriseti quickly signed.

Duriseti coauthored a spring 2021 academic paper finding that emergency room visits for "historically vulnerable populations," poor and Medicaid users had disproportionately plunged during northern California's shelter-in-place orders. 

That December he joined the anti-school mandate group Urgency of Normal, co-led by fellow misinformation law plaintiff and University of California San Francisco epidemiologist Tracy Beth Hoeg. Duriseti cowrote Newsweek essays with Hoeg and UC-Berkeley data scientist Ben Recht challenging the scientific basis for both routine COVID screening and N95 masks for kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published Duriseti's critical comment on a school mask study he said suffered from "the risk of systematic under-detection of secondary infection rates in masked districts and non-linear effects." The Lancet medical journal invited him to systematically review "child mask mandates," a submission now under review, the suit says.

Duriseti testified before a California Senate committee and met with senators about COVID policy, and he and Bhattacharya met with Santa Clara County officials to protest the firing of unvaccinated emergency medicine personnel. SHC conveniently asked Duriseti about his booster status in July, five months after the original deadline, after this spurt of activism, he says.

The suit includes public and private warnings to Duriseti from leaders of No License for Disinformation (NLFD), which targets doctors who flout COVID orthodoxy for medical license revocation.

His AAP letter criticizing the school mask study prompted a profane email from Arizona pediatrician Christopher Hickie demanding Duriseti "stay the f*** out of pediatrics as you gleefully assist covid killing more children" than pre-vaccine measles.

Fellow California emergency physician Taylor Nichols unleashed a social media mob in September, according to Duriseti, implying on Twitter that NLFD would comb through public records to get him investigated. "I don't recommend the f***ing around if you can’t handle the finding out," Nichols tweeted.

When Duriseti notified his superiors of the campaign, one responded that "several of us" in the department were familiar with Nichols' work on "misinformation" — confirming to Duriseti they viewed him much like Nichols did.

He's seeking damages, including punitive, for SHC's sanctions on his political activity, as pro-mandate employees were "permitted, even encouraged" to share their views, and for coercion to stop his political activity.

"Stanford Health Care does not comment on the details of personnel matters," spokesperson Lisa Kim told Just the News. Neither Maldonado nor her assistant responded to queries.

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