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Judge and gavel

Photodisc/Getty Images

An Ontario doctor is suing the province's workplace insurance plan and her employer, claiming both conspired to try to force her to change her medical opinion about a worker injured on the job in order to save money on the claim.

Brenda Steinnagel has filed a suit against the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and her employer, Workplace Health & Cost Solutions, a company based in Vaughan, Ont., that manages claims under a contract with WSIB.

The suit claims Dr. Steinnagel was fired by her employer this spring at the request of the WSIB after she refused to alter her evaluation of a hospital security guard's head injury – part of a pattern, it argues, of efforts by the insurer to cut costs.

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"WSIB and WHCS tried to force Dr. Steinnagel to participate in a fraud upon the public," says a statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court. "In a desperate effort to reduce claims paid out, WSIB and WHCS have been conspiring to deny legitimate claims in a shocking display of arrogance and corruption."

The suit alleges Dr. Steinnagel's treatment is part of a broader pattern of fraud that is coming to light because the Hamilton doctor refused to give in to pressure from her employer, even though it meant losing her job.

Asked about other cases that establish this as a trend, Dr. Steinnagel's lawyer Mark Polley said he is trying to find doctors who have faced similar pressure. "From our point of view there's an easy inference," he said, pointing to the actions taken against Dr. Steinnagel and the pressures faced by WSIB to reduce costs because of billions in unfunded liabilities.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

In a statement, lawyers acting for Dr. Steinnagel's former employer, WHCS, said "the claims she has made about improper conduct are without merit" and they intend to fight the allegations.

WSIB indicated it too would be fighting the charges. "There is no truth to Dr. Steinnagel's allegations and we deny acting wrongfully in any way," a WSIB spokeswoman said in a written statement. "The WSIB will vigorously defend the lawsuit; however, as it is still before the courts, we cannot provide any further comment."

The wrongful dismissal suit is seeking damages from Dr. Steinnagel's employer of $1.85-million and an additional $1.35-million from WSIB for conspiracy to injure, mental distress and punitive damages.

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Dr. Steinnagel worked for WSIB for most of a decade, rising to the post of medical manager before taking a job with the private firm in 2012. The case in question involved a hospital security guard who suffered a head injury while trying to restrain a patient. He appeared to develop "emotional issues" that Mr. Steinnagel concluded were related to the workplace accident, the suit states.

That opinion was challenged, and when the doctor reviewed and stood by the assessment, the suit alleges the company's medical director reviewed the case and reversed her decision. When she refused to sign the revised report, the suit alleges she was asked if she "valued the WSIB contract." Company executives also questioned the doctor's "competence," it alleges, and used other tactics to try to get her to change her opinion.The company later provided WSIB with another opinion that reached a different conclusion from another doctor, the suit says.

After further communication with the company's president, Dr. Steinnagel was fired in April. The suit alleges the doctor was "punished solely for standing by her professional and legal obligations to provide her true opinion."

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