Former Resident Sues OHSU — Again
A former medical resident who sued Oregon Health & Science University in 2018 for discrimination has filed a new complaint against the institution, accusing it of violating their settlement agreement and preventing her from finishing her training.The latest suit, filed over the weekend in Multnomah County Circuit Court, lists several allegations against OHSU, including sexual harassment, gender bias and failure to accommodate a disability. But the main complaint centers on an accusation that OHSU breached its settlement with the resident. Following the 2018 suit, OHSU paid the resident $100,000, and she resigned from her residency. The settlement also included a letter of reference by OHSU for the resident’s prospective employers and prescribed the information OHSU could provide to them, the lawsuit says.
“Under the settlement agreement, all parties agreed to not disparage any other party to the settlement agreement in the future regarding activities or employment and/or relationship prior to the effective date of the agreement, in the manner that would ‘likely cause material damage or harm to the business interest or professional reputation’ of the other party,” the lawsuit says.
It accuses OHSU of violating that agreement and effectively thwarting the resident’s attempts to be accepted into another program so that she can finish her three-year residency. After graduating from medical school, doctors have to finish multi-year on-the-job training programs to become certified and practice independently. The plaintiff, listed as I.J. in the latest suit, had been in a three-year residency program for internal medicine.
OHSU did not respond to specific questions about the lawsuit. Instead, it issued a statement by President Dr. Danny Jacobs that was initially posted on the company’s internal website.
“The complaint is by a former resident and alleges breach of contract, civil rights violations, sexual harassment and discrimination based on national origin, each of which OHSU denies,” Jacobs said, alerting staff that OHSU would be in the news again. “Although we are declining to share additional specific information about the former resident due to privacy concerns, OHSU remains committed to ensuring the safety of our members and our patients.”
Jacobs said the lawsuit has been shared with Covington & Burling, which OHSU hired earlier this year to conduct an investigation of institutional harassment, discrimination, retaliation and racism at OHSU following another lawsuit and internal complaints by Black employees.
That investigation, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder at a cost of more than $2,000 an hour, is apparently ongoing. It was launched in April in the wake of a high-profile lawsuit against an OHSU anesthesiology resident, Dr. Jason Campbell, and OHSU. The suit accused Campbell of sexual assault and said OHSU fostered an environment that protected abusers by ignoring complaints and retaliating against victims.
The 2018 LawsuitThe resident's first lawsuit against OHSU accused the organization of subjecting her to unwarranted discipline, expecting her to perform at a higher level than others and meet higher standards, putting her under closer scrutiny and unfairly putting her on a remediation plan. It alleges she was discriminated against because she’s Russian and says OHSU failed to accommodate her disability: She was diagnosed with depression.
The second suit repeats many of those charges but goes into greater detail and adds new allegations of sexual harassment. In one instance, the lawsuit contends, an assistant professor of medicine forced I.J. and another female resident to watch a sexually suggestive video in a dark room. The suit said he “danced in a sexually suggestive manner while grabbing his crotch” and prevented them from leaving. At other times, the suit says she suffered “derogatory and demeaning comments and unfounded criticisms” from two other male physicians.
The suit says the culture was so toxic that at one point OHSU’s affirmative action department required that all staff in the pulmonary and critical care units undergo sexual harassment training.
The national agency that oversees medical residency programs — the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education — requires institutions like OHSU to provide “a professional, equitable, respectful and civil environment that is free from discrimination, sexual and
other forms of harassment, mistreatment, abuse or coercion.”
The council is currently investigating OHSU’s handling of sexual harassment complaints following the lawsuit against OHSU and Campbell, known as the TikToc Doc for his dance videos.
I.J.’s complaint says that OHSU helped Campbell find another residency “despite being found by OHSU to have sexually assaulted several women” but has repeatedly refused to provide a reference letter to I.J.’s prospective employers, “which they agreed to do under the terms of the settlement agreement.”
Dr. Sima Desai, director of OHSU’s internal medical residency program, is named in the suit along with Dr. Christopher Swide, who heads the entire graduate medical training program. The complaint says Desai “conspired” against I.J. by refusing to investigate her complaints of gender-based harassment and refusing to let her appeal “baseless, negative evaluations” from two male physicians. It alleges that Desai put I.J. on a remediation plan that included requirements that went well beyond what other residents were expected to do, setting her up to fail.
That threw I.J. into a depression, the lawsuit says.
“In or around April 2017, following months of unabated depression and at the insistence from faculty supporters, plaintiff saw a non-OHSU physician, Dr. Lawrence Schwartz, and was diagnosed (with) depression and an anxiety spectrum condition,” the suit says. OHSU’s affirmative action department determined that her depression fell under the Americans With Disabilities Act and that she had a right to an accommodation, the suit says.
It claims that OHSU failed to provide that.
The Letter Of Reference
The lawsuit’s central allegation, though, is that Desai failed to provide the prescribed letter of reference to I.J.’s prospective employers and even indicated to them that she had left because of a settlement.
“The gratuitous disclosure of such an agreement has the practical effect of alerting prospective employers that any positive information provided” by OHSU “should be discounted,” the lawsuit says. “The mere suggestion that the employment relationship needed to be resolved via a settlement agreement is a red flag for employers who fear they may be embroiled in a similar dispute if they hire plaintiff. This, in turn, significantly reduces the likelihood of plaintiff being hired.”
The lawsuit said she has applied for at least 20 residency positions — including in the U.S. Army and Navy — but has repeatedly been rejected.
OHSU sees the situation differently.
Jacobs said in his note that OHSU carries the “mission and responsibility to train the next generation of health care professionals to provide safe, high-quality care to the people they serve.” He said the organization is committed to providing “a supportive work and learning environment that is safe, respectful and welcoming to all.”
He said OHSU uses a range of assessments and relies on multiple perspectives to gauge whether students are meeting the expected requirements. He said residents are offered an array of interventions and accommodations to help them succeed.
But not everyone makes the cut, he said: “Regrettably, despite extensive support processes, some residents are unable to meet program requirements and are recommended for dismissal. With health and safety first and foremost in our minds, the decision to dismiss a resident is extremely difficult for all involved and only undertaken as a last resort after appropriate due process.
“We understand that the journey to becoming an independent, practicing physician is long and arduous, and that residency training in an ACGME-accredited training program is incredibly demanding, especially at teaching hospitals and regional referral centers like OHSU, where we see a large volume of our region’s and the nation’s sickest and most vulnerable patients.”
Among I.J.’s attorneys is Kim Sordyl, a Portland-based lawyer who was involved in the sexual abuse case that prompted the Holder investigation and an apology by OHSU. That case, which sought $45 million, settled for $585,000. I.J. is also represented by Cauble, Selvig & Whittington, a Portland-based law firm. One of their lawyers, Kellie Furr, blasted OHSU in a news release.
“We are seeing enablement of predators and silencing of victims now being surpassed by blatant breaches and sustained retaliation,” Furr said. “There is a lot of talk at OHSU about opportunity and the privilege of helping people, but they are making that impossible for I.J. and too many others.”
You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.
Jul 13 2021