Tuesday, October 6, 2009

UAB Discriminates Against Medical Trainee From India

A federal jury in Birmingham has found that the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) discriminated against a medical resident from India, based on her Hindu religion.

Dr. Seema Gupta filed a discrimination lawsuit after she was dismissed from the UAB Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville. Dr. Allan Wilke, then director of the residency program, gave Gupta a notice of nonrenewal as she was about to complete the second year of the three-year program.

If UAB is any indicator, discrimination against international medical students must be widespread. Testimony at the Gupta trial indicated that she was one of at least five students--three from India, one from Pakistan, one from Germany--who left the program after alleging that they had been victims of discrimination.

Wilke apparently was a central figure in all five cases. Not long after Gupta filed her lawsuit, UAB removed Wilke from his role as residency director.

The problem, however, does not appear to be limited to Wilke. Dr. Marcia Chesebro and Dr. Melissa Behringer played key roles in Gupta's complaint. And the multiple charges of discrimination raise questions about the leadership of Dr. Robert Rich, dean of the UAB School of Medicine, and Dr. Robert Centor, an associate dean who is responsible for the Huntsville program.

And where was UAB President Carol Garrison while international students were facing multiple incidents of discriminatory treatment? As we have reported at Legal Schnauzer, Garrison's record on human-resources issues is dismal, and she apparently was missing in action throughout Seema Gupta's ordeal.

Rich came to UAB in 2004, touted for his ability to secure research grants while serving as executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The Gupta case raises this question about the current leadership at UAB: If Rich is busy trying to bring in money, who is supposed to ensure that medical students can study in an environment free from discrimination and mistreatment?

Testimony in the Gupta trial indicates that no one at UAB is paying attention to such issues. And what kind of price do the victims of discrimination pay?

Seema Gupta had to spend more than $30,000 to find another residency program, and she wound up completing a program in preventive medicine and public health. Career prospects in those fields are much more limited than they are in family medicine, a field in which she had completed almost two-thirds of her training before Allan Wilke intervened.

Two of Gupta's colleagues from India had to leave the United States and return to their home country after facing alleged discrimination at UAB. A former medical resident from Germany has a lawsuit pending in federal court. And Dr. Rehan Puri, from Pakistan, filed a complaint against UAB with the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging that the university did not properly pay its residents.

Patrika, one of India's leading newspapers, has reported on the difficult times international skilled workers can face in the United States:

India Newspaper Discrimination

Reporter Dinesh Sharma writes from New Delhi:
For outsiders, the United States could be a dream destination. But the bitter experience of a large number of Asians, especially Indians, Chinese, and Pakistanis, tell a different story--and a sad one indeed.

Tens of thousands of skilled workers, like software engineers and doctors holding graduate degrees who go to the United States on H-1B visas every year, are having real tough times because of their abject exploitation by employers.

Sharma goes on to cite UAB as one employer that exploits international workers. He quotes one expert in India, who says that many H-1B visa holders are "treated like indentured servants."

I covered the Seema Gupta trial in Birmingham and came away realizing that international workers and trainees can not only be exploited in the workplace; they can be treated unfairly in U.S. courts.

Seema Gupta, represented by Birmingham attorney John Saxon, prevailed on her claim of religious discrimination. But an Alabama jury, contrary to the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, found against her on claims of national-origin discrimination and constructive discharge--and awarded a paltry sum in monetary damages that probably did not even cover Dr. Gupta's travel expenses to attend the trial.

While UAB was found to have discriminated, the overall outcome of the Seema Gupta trial raises serious questions about the fundamental fairness of the U.S. federal court system.

And it also raises serious questions about the ethics of UAB's current administration--and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. The board is the legal entity responsible for all three campuses of the University of Alabama System--and as such, is the primary defendant in most lawsuits involving UA. The Gupta case involved the Birmingham campus, so we will be referring to UAB as the opposing party in her lawsuit. But technically, the primary defendant was the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

New documents in the court file indicate that UAB, apparently with the support of the trustees, is contesting an award of attorney fees to Seema Gupta. According to our understanding of the law, Gupta is entitled to an award of attorney fees, based on having prevailed on at least one claim of discrimination.

We will be taking a detailed look at the Seema Gupta case in a series of upcoming posts. What will we learn? The central message is this: Based on Seema Gupta's experience, UAB is prone to mistreat international workers from start to finish--in the workplace, in the courtroom, even after the trial is over.

And UAB's hypocrisy is overwhelming. While it treats skilled workers from India in an unlawful and shabby fashion, the university clearly is mindful of certain booming economies around the world--places where money can be made.

In fact, at roughly the exact time Seema Gupta was on the receiving end of a grossly unjust verdict in an Alabama courtroom, articles appeared in the local press about UAB trying to form business relationships with a certain large, South Asian country, one that rivals China for economic growth.

What South Asian country was that? Take a wild guess.

(To be continued)


Dave said...

Sadly, I'm not surprised. We are talking about the South and a state where over 60% of the vote went to McCain/Palin in 2008.

There seems to be a pattern of distaste for people of color. I'm not sure about the issue with the German national. Probably the funny accent or proper grammar offended the idiot locals.

Advisers and governments of countries that encourage their citizens to work or seek an education in the US should warn their citizens from doing so in the South. The South is a vast wasteland of ignorance. Of which they are very proud. In fact, Alabama is 45th out of 50 in education rankings.

I grew up in the South so I am familiar with the racism, bigotry, and ignorance.

When congress passed the MLK holiday the running joke was "Let's kill four more and take the whole week off." Yep, that was the thinking in the South.

When we went into the first illegal Gulf War I heard the terms "sand-nigger" and "towel-head" for the first time. Us vs. them - that's what the racists were selling then.

Mind you I was in a university town with many middle-easterners attending the university. Even as a caucasian native of the state in which the university was located I was treated like crap by the locals who worked the business office or anywhere else. I wasn't from the local town so they didn't give a shit about me.

I can't imagine how people of color from other countries were treated.

Anonymous said...

Same thing happened to my husband at the University of South AL Ob/Gyn residency in Mobile, AL 2010. He was 3 months shy of graduating from residency and 2 gyn/onc did not like him (one being a grad. from UAB) and placed pressure on the faculty to have him dismissed! He did nothing wrong, was an excellent ob/gyn and is now board inelligible. All because he was an IMG!!! He even had a signed contract to work in rural AL, and his future partner had done due diligence in recruiting my husband, speaking hours to each faculty member and even having the ObGyn director, state that if he had his own practice he would hire my husband. All of this occurred within 10 days time upon entering the gyn onc rotation. Although the evidence was black and white clear to vindicate my husband, they would not reinstate him & made up false charges for dismissing him. the system is so corrupt, not one faculty member stood up for the truth even though we had the documents to prove my husband did nothing wrong. They would not release the recorded tape of the gyn onc dr. stating in their mtg that he was going to get rid of my husband b.c. he was an img and older student. We hired attnys and even requested the tape ourselves. the univ. attny said they did not have to release the tape but my husband could listen to it. no recordings and no copies allowed. and would be watched while he listened to to it. sure enough the evidence was there, exactly how he remembered it. they gave us a false transcript omitting the part of discrimination, but refused to give us an official transcript after numerous requests! these univ. are so well insulated with attnys it is impossible to get a fair hearing. we wasted so much money on mobile, al lawyers that did nothing but smoke cigars with their attnys at the country club. So in a nutshell, he was forced to resign b.c. he was an IMG and older non traditional student. NOT lack of skill or knowledge. His remaining 3 months left were only electives at that. Sickening!!! And the very reason they gave for having him dismissed, they awarded him credit on with his transcript...his gyn/onc rotation! Something should be done to help create a non hostile environment in the South for IMGs. And yes we are U.S. citizens...born and raised in Louisiana!

legalschnauzer said...


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Anonymous said...

I am an IMG at a big residency program here in the US. I took sometime to adjust to the new system and in the process received several bad evaluation in my first year. Since then I have performed exceptionally well and have received excellent grades, my exam scores a way above the average for this program. In my second year of residency there was an incident which implicated a number of residents of a very minor offence. I was singled out and made an example of. I was first threatened with dismissal and later told that my training would be extended by a full year. I feel like I'm being harassed and discriminated against just because they can dismiss me and cancel my visa at the click of a button. Most peers and faculty sympathize with me and think that I'm an excellent doctor, however, it seems like no one has the authority or the courage to stand up to the program administration. I just feel humiliated because of the way I'm being treated here and find it hard to be able to function in such an environment.