Former Dartmouth-Hitchcock radiology resident files suit

By Eric Barnes, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

April 15, 2013 -- Former Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) radiology resident Christyna Faulkner has sued the hospital and four of its physicians alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, and disclosure of personal medical information, according to news reports and a petition she filed at the website change.org.

Faulkner's complaint alleges the medical center violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against her for a pre-existing condition, and eventually terminating her in 2010, according to the reports.

"What DHMC chose to do was intimidate, harass, and threaten me into leaving the residency program," Faulkner wrote in her petition, which listed 152 supporters as of April 12.

"When I complained about it to human resources, they retaliated against me," she wrote. "I was given an ultimatum: to resign without any assistance or help from them in finding another residency position, or be terminated. I refused to resign from a position I knew I was capable of doing so they eventually terminated me. It took them a few months and they even put me on 'academic leave' without telling me exactly what that was or why I was on it. They basically needed time to come up with valid reasons to fire me. They never did."

Faulkner, 35, has severe and chronic insomnia, and said during her residency from 2008 to 2010, doctors at the hospital forced her to be on call overnight even though it worsened the condition, wrote reporter Chris Fleisher in Valley News (April 1, 2013).

Her job performance suffered as a result of the night call, and she was ultimately fired. Making matters worse, the hospital provided information to other residency programs that made it impossible for her to successfully apply for admission at another residency program, her lawyer claims in the article.

"By getting terminated from this residency, especially one as prestigious as Dartmouth, she became unable to find another residency that would take her," attorney George Campbell told Valley News. The hospital didn't want her because she couldn't subscribe to the "macho idea" that residents had to work around the clock to be part of the club, he added.

Along with the hospital, the four physicians named in the suit include radiology residency program director Dr. Anne Silas, radiology department vice chair Dr. Jocelyn Chertoff, radiology department chair Dr. Peter Spiegel, and graduate medical education dean Dr. Marc Bertrand, the Dartmouth reported.

Faulkner told her superior, Chertoff, about her severe and chronic insomnia when she began the program in 2008, and sleep medicine director Michael Sateia diagnosed Faulkner with chronic insomnia and shift-work sleep disorder, recommending she not be assigned to overnight call, according to an April 11 story in the Dartmouth that cited the complaint.

For four months Faulkner was excused from overnight calls, but in July 2009, she was once again forced to take up the duties, the complaint stated. Faulkner left DHMC for a temporary residency rotation in Boston and returned to DHMC in 2010. Upon her return, Faulkner wasn't asked to handle overnight call, but her insomnia worsened and her physicians recommended that she take a medical leave.

Her attorney Campbell, from Concord, NH-based Stein Law Firm, did not respond to requests for comment, and his office declined to provide a copy of the complaint. Likewise, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center spokesman Michael Barwell told AuntMinnie.com the hospital never comments on pending litigation out of respect for the judicial process, but he did provide a written statement.

"Dartmouth-Hitchcock takes its responsibility to train and educate young physicians very seriously, to ensure that the public's best interest will be well served in the future," the statement read.

After her termination in September 2010, Faulkner filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging discrimination due to her race (Faulkner is African-American) and her disability. Last August, EEOC said there was reasonable evidence to believe discrimination occurred when the hospital failed to keep her medical information confidential as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Valley News reported.

"Years and years of education and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been wasted," Faulkner wrote in a letter to the hospital posted on change.org. "[I]t wasn't because I wasn't a good doctor. Or because I was lazy and didn't care. My career and dream ended very painfully and suddenly in my opinion because of discrimination, animosity, and indifference by ... DHMC."

The hospital responded to the lawsuit requesting it be dismissed because employers, not individuals, are responsible for maintaining confidentiality of medical information, and that Faulkner's claims of emotional distress and wrongful discharge should be dismissed, according to Valley News.

"I strongly believe DHMC violated both my civil rights and my ADA rights through discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and eventually wrongful termination," Faulkner wrote in her petition.

Faulkner is now back in her home state of New York, where she works at a local Whole Foods market, Valley News reported.


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