Defamation lawsuit filed over Methodist Hospital phone bugging claims

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston Methodist doctor has filed a lawsuit against the hospital claiming he was demoted for raising concerns about recording of conversations on hospital phone lines.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Eric Haufrect MD was removed as vice chairman of Methodist's obstetrics and gynecology department after he raised concerns that the hospital was illegally recording conversations between staff and patients.

Haufrect learned of the alleged phone bugging in October 2016 after a nurse said a technician working on her phone explained it to her, according to the lawsuit.

When he alerted hospital administrators to the recording, they said his department could not opt out of recordings, the suit alleges. Haufrect said he raised concerns to several different parties in the hospital about potential HIPAA violations, including CEO Dr. Robert Phillips.

The lawsuit goes on to state that the hospital's attorney told Haufrect that "the tapes had been erased and that there was 'no harm, no foul.'"

Upon learning of the lawsuit, a Houston Methodist spokesperson said in a statement that the recordings were only made on patient appointment lines as a quality control measure, which is legal under Texas law. The spokesperson added that an investigation was launched when Haufrect initially raised his concerns and that appropriate actions were taken.

Haufrect, the spokesperson said, was removed from his "position because he did not fulfill his duties," but remains a "well-respected, active member of [the] medical staff."

"We regret that Dr. Haufrect has chosen to take such a negative and spiteful action after a long-distinguished career," the statement concluded.

Haufrect is seeking more than $1 million in damages and reinstatement in his former position.

Full statement from Houston Methodist:

Today we learned that Dr. Eric Haufrect, a longtime Houston Methodist physician, is suing us for alleged defamation after he was removed from the Houston Methodist Specialty Physician Group (HMSPG) vice chair position in obstetrics/gynecology.

We are saddened and surprised by his actions, as we have enjoyed a collegial relationship with Dr. Haufrect for 40 years. At the beginning of this year, Dr. Haufrect was removed from this position for unfortunately choosing not to fulfill his obligations. This position is an appointed position in our physician group and when Dr. Haufrect joined he agreed that he could be removed as vice chair of the department at any time.

In his lawsuit, Dr. Haufrect claims that he was removed as vice chair for reporting that his office phone lines were recording conversations between staff and patients. There was no retaliation-this is completely false. Recordings, which are legal under Texas law, are made on some appointment lines at Houston Methodist to improve patient service. However, after Dr. Haufrect raised this concern an investigation was immediately conducted and appropriate actions were taken.

Let me assure you that there was no campaign to impugn Dr. Haufrect, who lost his leadership position because he did not fulfill his duties. In fact, I consider him a longtime friend and I am very disappointed by his actions. He remains a well-respected, active member of our medical staff, who receives the same salary and benefits from HMSPG as when he was vice chair.

Houston Methodist has strong and collaborative relationships with its physicians. We regret that Dr. Haufrect has chosen to take such a negative and spiteful action after a long-distinguished career.

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