The estate of a spine surgeon is suing USC and Keck Hospital of USC, alleging he was fired a year before his 2020 death for wanting to give honest supplemental deposition testimony in a medical malpractice case.

Dr. Frank Acosta was 45 years old when he died in Nov. 21, but the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit does not list his cause of death. The plaintiffs are Michele Marquez, the personal representative of his estate; Angelita Roman, his former domestic partner; and the couple’s minor daughter.

The suit’s allegations include wrongful termination, retaliation, disability discrimination and failure to accommodate and engage in the interactive process. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages in the suit filed last Tuesday and amended two days later.

A USC representative issued a statement regarding the filing.

“We are aware of the lawsuit and are reviewing it in detail,” the statement read.

USC hired Acosta in February 2013, and in January 2016, he was named in a medical malpractice suit brought against USC by family members of a patient who died in post-operative care after a surgical procedure by Acosta, according to the estate’s lawsuit.

Acosta did not take part in the patient’s post-operative treatment and he was dismissed as a defendant in June 2018, but not before being deposed three months earlier, the suit says. Before the deposition took place, he was advised not to discuss other physicians’ care or to talk about or identify by name any of the other doctors involved in the care of the deceased patient, according to the suit.

Acosta had noted issues with the post-operative care and told his attorney about his concerns, but USC expressed its concern and informed Acosta that it would seek to settle the case with him included as an individual defendant, the suit states. That action would have required Acosta to have his name be publicly attached to the malpractice action, despite his lack of involvement in the post-operative care, according to the suit.

USC eventually did settle the case, but when Acosta said he wanted to provide more facts and transparency regarding his deposition, USC began retaliating against him, the suit alleges.

In October 2018, Acosta received a letter from the chief of staff at Keck Hospital and another hospital administrator notifying him that he was being suspended from his position at Keck Hospital because of his alleged involvement in a domestic violence incident and due to USC’s concerns that he had “impugned the care of others involved in the lawsuit,” according to the estate’s lawsuit.

The domestic dispute occurred in August 2018 when he and Roman had an argument and she struck him in the head with an object, the suit says.

Acosta also was alleged to have made statements of a sexual nature to a nurse and been involved with “multiple women with whom he worked,” but an internal investigation found no wrongdoing on his part, the suit states.

No domestic violence charges were filed against Acosta, yet he was suspended indefinitely six months after saying he wanted to revise his deposition testimony to shed light on his concerns about the late patient’s post-operative care, the suit states.

Acosta was not told how long his suspension would last, and in February 2019, he received a letter from USC stating he was being fired because of his suspension, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs allege Acosta was fired because of the deposition testimony he provided in the malpractice action against USC and his wish to provide additional information. The plaintiffs further allege his firing was motivated in part by his involvement in the domestic dispute, even though he was the victim.

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