Fired MetroHealth System CEO Dr. Akram Boutros lodged a new lawsuit against the hospital board on Thursday arguing that trustees breached their contract with him and defamed his character.
The suit claims trustees cost Boutros $8 million in lost compensation and severance, $20 million in harm to future job prospects and “additional tens of millions more” in damage to his reputation.
Boutros’ suit, filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, provides his most detailed defense to date against trustees’ allegations that he paid himself $1.9 million in bonuses without their sign-off. Late last month, Boutros sued the hospital board for alleged open meetings violations.
In this new suit, the ousted CEO argues he had the authority to accept the money. Boutros’ attorney writes in the complaint that hospital trustees had granted him broad powers to set compensation – including incentive pay – and that they didn’t ask for details until his final months on the job.
Before his termination, Boutros had already been set to leave MetroHealth at the end of the year.
“What should have been a community celebration and victory lap for Dr. Boutros as MetroHealth prepared for a change in leadership became a nightmare,” the complaint says. “An impeccable reputation for leadership, stewardship, honesty and uncompromising excellence was destroyed as the Defendants pursued a dubious investigation culminating in a late-night publicity campaign accusing Dr. Boutros of theft and dishonesty.”
MetroHealth responded late Thursday.
“Dr. Boutros’s latest lawsuit is another attempt to rewrite history,” it said in a written statement. “Once again, let’s be clear: Dr. Boutros was terminated because we learned he was paying himself almost $2 million in bonuses that had not been authorized by the MetroHealth Board. It’s that simple. To claim otherwise is to continue to smear the reputation of the very institution he claims to love and to undermine his successor.”
MetroHealth described the latest lawsuit as “distraction.”
“We look forward to getting back to our mission and focus on the community,” the statement said.
Boutros also accuses the board of flouting open meetings laws in hiring a law firm to investigate him and in firing him. His complaint refers to his interview by a Tucker Ellis attorney hired by the board as an “interrogation.”
MetroHealth’s board accused Boutros of keeping trustees in the dark about the system of secondary bonuses paid to him and other senior leaders. To that claim, Boutros’s lawsuit offers this counterpoint: If trustees didn’t know about the supplemental bonus system, it’s because they didn’t ask.
Boutros designed and expanded a bonus program with the board’s support after he joined MetroHealth in 2013, according to the complaint. The bonus system went through an update beginning in 2017, according to both the complaint and the board’s investigation of Boutros.
From 2018 through 2021, Boutros and senior leaders developed a set of weighted goals “for critical initiatives that created immense financial value for the organization,” the complaint says. This became known as the supplemental performance-based variable compensation program, or supplemental PBVC – the secondary bonuses now at issue.
In March 2019, when the board approved the prior year’s bonuses, they signed off on a document that referenced “supplemental incentives,” according to the board’s investigation. The board also approved dollar-amount totals to be used on bonuses.
According to Boutros’s complaint, the board didn’t pry.
“At no time did the Board of Trustees ask for person-specific metrics, payments, or other data related to the PBVC calculations or payments for other portions of the incentive program, including what amounts Dr. Boutros was receiving,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit reiterates Boutros’s allegation that he was fired in retaliation for challenging trustees over their use of executive sessions to hire his successor. The complaint goes on to fault the board for deciding in private to fire him without giving him a public hearing to state his case.
Read Boutros’ complaint below.