REGION — A trial began Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by former San Diego County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas Yphantides, who alleges he was discriminated against and wrongfully fired due to a mental disability that surfaced due to the strain and stress of his duties handling the county’s COVID-19 response.
Yphantides, a public presence during the early months of the pandemic known by many as “Dr. Nick,” alleges he suffered from a long dormant bipolar disorder that resurfaced in late 2020 and early 2021, which caused him to experience and exhibit manic behavior.
His attorneys allege those symptoms led him to take two medical leaves of absence and that episodes of hypomania caused him to act out in ways that were aberrant.
Aaron Olsen, one of the attorneys representing Yphantides, told a San Diego federal jury on Tuesday that the county was aware that his mental state was an issue, yet did not try to accommodate his disability and unlawfully fired him because of it.
“He spent years helping people in crisis and when he was in crisis himself, he got blamed for it,” Olsen said in his opening statement to the jury.
But county attorneys denied that any of Yphantides’ colleagues knew he was undergoing any mental health concerns and couldn’t have known. They allege Yphantides repeatedly assured county officials that he was fine and that his psychiatrist produced a letter in early 2021 that stated he could find “no psychological syndrome or disorder” was impairing Yphantides’ ability to work.
Instead, county attorneys argued he was ultimately fired due to several instances of “poor judgment.”
Those included allegedly asking a fellow county doctor to help his friend get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, despite Yphantides’ friend not meeting the criteria for obtaining a vaccine at the time.
County attorneys also allege he sent inappropriate messages to the mayor of San Marcos and other county employees who were his subordinates.
Yphantides’ attorneys say those incidents were directly caused by his disorder and that he did not have the self-awareness at the time to recognize how his behavior was affecting others. His attorneys say Yphantides has since learned to manage his symptoms and that he has not had any such episodes since.
Yphantides first began serving as the county’s chief medical officer in 2009.