IDAHO FALLS — A retired Idaho Falls gynecologist is being sued for allegedly inseminating a woman and fathering her child more than 30 years ago.
Dr. Gerald E. Mortimer and his former employer, Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls, have been accused of medical negligence, battery, fraud and breach of contract. The case against them was filed in Idaho federal court on Friday.
The civil suit was filed by Kelli Rowlette, a Washington resident, and her divorced parents Sally Ashby and Howard Fowler.
The accusations came to light after the 36-year-old Rowlette received an unexpected result from a DNA test sent to Ancestry.com in July 2017. If users opt in, Ancestry.com can link them to others with similar DNA.
The Ancestry.com results predicted a parent-child relationship between Mortimer and Rowlette, according to the complaint.
At the time, Rowlette thought the results were wrong. She had no idea who Mortimer was, nor did she know her parents had used a medical procedure to help them conceive.
But after speaking with her parents, details eventually began piecing themselves together, according to the lawsuit.
EastIdahoNews.com contacted Rowlette’s Washington attorney, Shea Meehan, Tuesday. He issued the following statement:
“After much consideration, Mrs. Rowlette and her family made the difficult decision to allow their personal grief to become public through the legal process. Ultimately this decision was made for the purpose of holding the responsible parties accountable for a grievous and damaging violation of trust. While the family understands the public’s interest in their story, they ask that their privacy be respected as they focus on the difficult process of healing from this trauma.”
In 1979, Fowler and Ashby were a married couple living in Idaho Falls while Fowler was stationed at the Naval Reactors Facility.
The couple was having difficultly conceiving a child and became patients of Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls and Mortimer, according to court documents.
Mortimer examined both Ashby and Fowler to determine their reproductive problems. He diagnosed Ashby with a tipped uterus and Fowler with a low sperm count and low sperm motility.
The doctor’s recommendation was the couple undergo a procedure where donor semen would be mixed with Fowler’s semen to increase the chance of conception. The ratio of genetic material would be 85 percent from Fowler and 15 percent from a donor with characteristics selected by the parents.
The parents agreed on the condition the donor was a college student with physical characteristics similar to Fowler — namely brown hair, blue eyes and over 6 feet tall, according to the lawsuit. They paid for the procedure and for access to genetic material that would be used for the procedure.
The procedure was performed three times a month while Ashby was ovulating in June, July and August of 1980.
In August 1980, Ashby found out she was pregnant and gave birth to Rowlette on May 20, 1981. Mortimer delivered the baby and continued to care for Ashby as a gynecologist for several years.
Several years later, the couple conceived another child on their own without the need for medical intervention.
Rowlette and her parents allege that neither the donor sperm, nor Fowler’s sperm, were used during the procedure. Instead, Mortimer allegedly inseminated Ashby with his own semen and then intentionally concealed that fact from the parents.
The lawsuit claims that had the parents known Mortimer was going to use his own semen, they would not have consented to the procedure.
Mortimer is accused of knowing Rowlette was his daughter and concealing it even when the family moved to Washington. Court documents claim Mortimer cried when Ashby told him they were moving.
Court documents show Rowlette learned who Mortimer was after her parents told her about the procedure and Mortimer’s role as her mother’s obstetrician. Rowlette also later discovered that her birth certificate had been signed by Mortimer.
All three plaintiffs say they are “devastated” by Mortimer’s alleged actions, according to court documents.
The family is suing for medical negligence, failure to obtain consent, fraud, battery, infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and engaging in deceptive trade practices.
Mortimer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Additionally, the suit claims Mortimer’s then-employer, Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls, is vicariously liable for Mortimer’s alleged actions and for “failure to exercise due care to control Mortimer so he would not injure patients.”
A representative of the clinic declined to comment on the suit and referred us to their attorney. Idaho Falls attorney Michael Wheiler had just been given the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, and told EastIdahoNews.com he could not a provide a detailed comment until he was more familiar with the case.
However, Wheiler did say “that none of the health care providers currently at Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls were part of the practice in 1979 to 1980 and they diligently strive to provide care to their patients that is in compliance with the standards of health care practice.”
The family is seeking an undisclosed amount of more than $75,000 in damages.