published Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Erlanger's ex-attorney gets hefty severance

The Erlanger Baroness campus.
The Erlanger Baroness campus.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

SIX-FIGURE SEVERANCE

The following former Erlanger executives are among those who were granted six-figure severance packages from the public hospital upon their departure.

Dale Hetzler

Chief Legal Officer, June 2008-March 2013

Severance: $229,510 (9 months salary upon resignation)

Doug Fisher

VP of government affairs, marketing and community relations, Dec. 2007-Jan. 2012

Severance: $157,014 (Year's salary awarded as a part of voluntary severance agreement)

Jim Brexler

CEO Dec. 2003-Dec. 2011

Severance: $728,000 (Over 15 months upon resignation)

Dennis Pettigrew

CEO October 1998-February 2003

Severance: $131,000 (Awarded in settlement of lawsuit seeking $380,000)

Sylvester "Skip" Reeder

CEO November 1994-March 1998

Severance: $516,000 over two years

A key part of a $25 million lawsuit filed by Erlanger Health System's ex-interim CEO against the hospital raises questions about the circumstances surrounding the hospital's former chief legal officer's quiet exit this spring -- which included a severance package equal to nine months' salary.

In a lawsuit filed in July, former interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson said hospital trustees instructed her to terminate former chief legal officer Dale Hetzler after he allegedly admitted he "gained access" to her and other executives' email accounts without their knowledge on certain board members' orders.

But the board has taken no public action regarding Hetzler, and the hospital has maintained that he resigned. In a response to the lawsuit, Erlanger further denied Woodard-Thompson's claims that Hetzler ever accessed or admitted to tampering with her emails, saying a computer forensics firm hired to analyze the claims found no evidence to support her claim.

Still, Erlanger has remained mum on the details about the circumstances of Hetzler's abrupt departure. Asked to comment, the hospital only said that Hetzler was not the sole draftee of all Erlanger separation agreements.

The public hospital paid Hetzler at least $229,510 in severance when he left in March, according to a copy of his separation agreement obtained by the Times Free Press through an open records request.

His annual salary was $306,015. As a part of the agreement, he also was granted health insurance for up to a year, and any unused vacation. Both parties agreed to clauses that will prevent them from filing lawsuits.

Hetzler is among several Erlanger executives who have been paid six-figure severance packages upon their exit.

He ended his five-year career with Erlanger following a period of turmoil when trustees were selecting the hospital's new CEO amid harsh scrutiny by local legislators.

Hetzler left before Woodard-Thompson left the hospital, but after trustees decided Kevin Spiegel would take the hospital's helm in April.

Woodard-Thompson offered no additional details about her claims about Hetzler.

"The situation with Dale is very complicated and I cannot comment at this time," she said.

But she did say Erlanger's full denial of the accusations in her lawsuit was "totally predictable."

"Of course they have to deny everything because they are unaware of the specific issues," she said. "The perpetrators are not going to confess. I have managed employee relations areas most of my career. I would not make accusations where I did not have hard evidence and witnesses. I am not giving opinions in this lawsuit. I am and will be stating facts."

Hetzler had been chief legal officer during the period that board members agreed to grant forced-out former CEO Jim Brexler $728,000 in severance. Hetzler also was head of the legal office when severance agreements were drawn up for several hospital executives who left amid the restructuring of hospital leadership under Woodard-Thompson.

The hiring process for a new chief legal officer is underway.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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