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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Did Richard Shelby Ignore Concerns From India About Discrimination at UAB?

Two government officials from India wrote letters in 2006 to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), expressing concern about discrimination against international medical residents at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Shelby apparently took no action, and at least five international trainees--three from India, one from Pakistan, and one from Germany--eventually left UAB's Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville after charging that they had been victims of discrimination.

Dr. Seema Gupta, one of the residents from India, filed a lawsuit--and a federal jury in Birmingham recently found that UAB discriminated against her based on her Hindu religion. A second lawsuit, filed by a former resident from Germany, is pending. Birmingham attorney John Saxon represents the plaintiffs in both cases.

Shelby has been credited with funneling millions of dollars in research funds to UAB--for everything from bioterrorism to cognitive impairment. A major facility on the campus, the Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, is named in honor of the senator and his wife, Annette.

A UAB press release states that Shelby helped secure much of the $90 million in funding for the building.

When government officials from India voiced concern about discrimination at UAB, however, Senator Shelby apparently became mute. Two letters, dated May 15, 2006, make it clear that Indian leaders felt discrimination was a serious problem at the UAB School of Medicine.

One of the letters is from R.L. Kureel, a former member of Parliament, a deputy leader of Lok Sabha in the Republic of India, and an advocate of the Supreme Court of India. Kureel also is Dr. Seema Gupta's father.

Supporting Kureel's document is a letter from Ashok Argal, a current member of the Parliament in Lok Sabha.

Kureel references his daughter in the letter to Shelby:

It is my understanding that she, as well as other foreign medical graduates, are regularly discriminated against by individuals at this program, due to the nation of origin, race, religion, and gender. (Seema) has documented and described to me several such instances. There has been an organized campaign to get rid of her at this institution.

Does Kureel consider this a serious matter? Sure sounds like it:

I have recently come to find out that Seema has been suffering emotional and verbal abuse in Huntsville during her training for the past several months. This is in addition to disregard for her religious beliefs, as well as forcing her to listen to several gender-based inappropriate comments by her supervisors. She has been denigrated to the extent to being called "stupid" in meetings. This is no way for educated people like physicians to act! Attempts have been made to embarrass her in front of her peers, as well as assassinate her character.

These acts are very disappointing and heartbreaking to me as a parent. In fact, such behavior is appalling and unpardonable.

When money is at issue, or his name is about to be put on a building, Richard Shelby apparently springs into action on UAB matters. But when the university is systematically discriminating against multiple international medical trainees? Doesn't look like that is worthy of Shelby's attention.

We will be addressing other issues raised in the letters from India. Here are the letters in their entirety:

India Letters to Richard Shelby

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