The chief of the American Medical Association (AMA) dropped a bombshell at the annual delegates' meeting in Chicago last week by announcing that he is suing the AMA Board of Trustees. CEO Ratcliffe Anderson claims the board has violated his contract in the course of a dispute harking back to the notorious Sunbeam episode of 1997. In a press release Anderson dubbed the current fracas "Sunbeam II."
The AMA was widely criticized when it agreed to let Sunbeam put AMA's logo on its blood pressure monitors and other medical products (Science, 3 October 1997, p. 26). After backing out of the agreement in 1998, the AMA hired Anderson, a former Air Force surgeon general, as part of a general housecleaning. At the time, an internal report by AMA lawyer Michael Ile exonerated the board from any knowledge of the agreement. The board subsequently promoted Ile to general counsel.
In his 11 June complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Anderson claims that Ile's report failed to mention a 1997 internal message to the board alluding to the Sunbeam plan. He goes on to say that last fall he wanted to fire Ile for management of a money-losing real estate deal. But the board wouldn't let him, he says, instead arranging for Ile's resignation and a confidential severance package--and, in violation of Anderson's contract, taking over authority for hiring the next counsel. The board has effectively terminated his contract by usurping his hiring and firing authority, Anderson says, and he is asking for 3 years of compensation.
The suit resulted from a "growing belief ... that the Sunbeam fiasco ... was not an aberration for certain members" of the board, Anderson said in his press release. In response, the board issued a statement saying it had not violated Anderson's contract and criticized him for springing his suit on it in the middle of its June meeting.
Last week Anderson was still at the helm of the AMA. "I'm going to stick around until they tell me: 'Don't stick around anymore,' " he told reporters. Peter Warren, a spokesperson for the California Medical Association, says the affair is "sad" and raises questions about the ability of people at AMA to "work out their differences in a professional manner. ... It's a mess."