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Fired St. Vincent physician suing hospital for discrimination

June 14, 2012

An Indian-born physician fired by St. Vincent Health is suing the hospital network in federal court on charges of discrimination and harassment.

Seema Nayak filed her lawsuit on Wednesday and is seeking past and future pay, in addition to other damages for the hospital’s “malicious and/or reckless conduct."

St. Vincent officials were not immediately available to comment.

Nayak’s suit follows a complaint she filed in October 2010 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which granted her the right to sue in March. Her employment contract was not renewed by the hospital in June 2010.

She began her first-year residency program at St. Vincent in July 2007, in the obstetrics and gynecology department.

Though Nayak exceeded performance standards during her first- and second-year residencies, according to the suit, she became the target of discrimination from other residents due to her accent and Indian origin.

Nayak reported the harassment to the director of the hospital’s OB/GYN residency program, who advised her to accept more work to win the favor of other residents, the suit said.

The hospital also required Nayak to work with a cultural coach, who, after a few sessions, indicated that further coaching was unnecessary, the complaint said.

In the meantime, Nayak began experiencing physical impairments related to her pregnancy, which led to negative work evaluations. In May 2009, she was placed on complete bed rest. Three months later, one of her unborn twins died, according to the suit.

While in the hospital, Nayak said she was pressured to return to work as soon as possible and was granted six weeks' leave instead of the hospital’s customary eight-week maternity leave. St. Vincent, however, ultimately granted her the eight weeks on the insistence of Nayak’s physician, the complaint said.

Nayak returned to work in December 2009 and was immediately placed on a difficult residency rotation and placed under the supervision of a physician with whom she had previous conflicts, according to court documents.

In January 2010, Nayak was placed on probation and she was terminated the following May.

Nayak appealed to the hospital’s residency education committee and narrowly lost due to what she believes was a manipulation of the voting process in which her supporters were underrepresented.

“St. Vincent made it impossible for Dr. Nayak to perform her job to St. Vincent’s satisfaction because it refused to reasonably accommodate her disability and instead imposed unrealistic conditions upon her employment,” her suit said.

Nayak also is suing St. Vincent for retaliation.

She is represented by lawyers at the local firm of Betz+Blevins.

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