A sex and age discrimination lawsuit was filed on 4/26/19 against Mount Sinai Health System Inc. and leadership within the School of Medicine and the Arnhold Institute for Global Health. Plaintiffs in the case include current and former employees of Mount Sinai Health System.
Dr. Holly Atkinson, a plaintiff in the case, is a nationally regarded leader in global health, past president of Physicians for Human Rights (an organization recognized by the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize), co-founder of AMWA’s initiative against human trafficking, recipient of AMWA’s Esther Pohl Lovejoy Award, and founding member of TIME’S UP Healthcare.
A press release by McAllister Olivarius, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, highlights key claims in the case including the alleged marginalization, denigration, and overt discrimination experienced by senior female faculty, leading to their departure despite, the complaint asserts, a deep commitment to the work of the institute that they had helped found. The full 174 page lawsuit is available to the public.
Allegations of gender discrimination are not new, as evidenced by several high profile cases over the past decade. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issued a Consensus Study Report on Sexual Harassment of Women which found that “Gender harassment is far more common than other types of sexual harassment, yet to date, most institutions have focused on investigating and preventing the more dramatic, sexualized types…with less attention paid to the more common gender harassment…”
The complaint in this lawsuit paints a picture of factors playing out within a medical institution and leading to both a climate and culture of gender harassment that can derail the professional careers of women in medicine.
Already, the lawsuit has prompted advocacy within the institution. As of this week, 270+ students have signed a letter to the board of trustees calling on leadership to “investigate these allegations, prevent further perpetuation of an abusive culture that enables these types of behaviors to occur, and empower those who seek justice.” Similar letters from over 300 current faculty/staff and from over 200 alumni are also being sent.
The significance of this lawsuit, however, is not just about a single institution or an isolated group of plaintiffs. The NASEM report found that the type of behavior as alleged in this case is just “as damaging to women’s success and professional advancement as the more egregious forms of sexual harassment.”
The American Medical Women’s Association has long advocated for gender equity, from the early years of its founding when women were excluded from institutions on the basis of their sex. Over 100 years later, AMWA’s work is still not done. Though the doors of medicine have largely been opened to women, inequity remains at all levels within the profession.
The allegations in this case should be a sounding call for all of us as leaders in medicine to build within our organizations an environment that values diversity, inclusion, and respect, leaving no room for discrimination in any of its forms.