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|July 7, 2000|
Doc wins first round against university
A sacked second-year anaesthesiology resident at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, who filed a lawsuit against his termination, may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, however far it be. For Judge Bernice B Donald denied the University of Tennessee's demand that the charges of discrimination against it be dropped. He also refused to dismiss charges of conspiracy against Boinapally.
Dr Vijaykumar Boinapally, who was terminated in October 1998 for poor "performance" and endangering "patient safety", alleges that he had endured hostility, insult and even physical assault since September 1997. Later the university stuck to performance, says Boinapally.
Boinapally, who came to the US in August 1992 after receiving his medical degree at the Sri Venkateshwara Medical College, Tirupati, says it was the department of anaesthesiology chairman John Zanella and two or three members of the faculty who had begun discriminating against him. His lawsuit, filed last August, alleges that every effort was made to terminate him. The insults allegedly ranged from the silly ("You Indians use copper kettles" -- instructor Tom Davis) to the downright petty ("My government is more responsible than your Indian government" -- Zanella).
More seriously, another instructor, Lawrence Yellin, developed differences with Boinapally. Yellin allegedly moved from personal remarks in September 1997 to assault the next month. Yellin died in an accident in Florida a few days later, but Boinapally's problems didn't end.
The same month, the lawsuit alleges, Boinapally's locker was broken into and narcotic syringes placed on his anaesthesia cart repeatedly in an attempt to frame him.
According to it, Zanella too physically assaulted him twice and tore up a poster about Rajasthan (Boinapally is from Andhra Pradesh). But the strain on him was immense and Boinapally finally went on leave for two months. According to the lawsuit, when he returned from leave in April 1997, he was regarded as being disabled or handicapped.
Things got worse and finally, in October 1998, the anaesthesiologist complained to the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. A few days later, Boinapally was sacked.
According to Boinapally, six Asians have been victimised in the last year, five of them from the subcontinent.
Earlier, Boinapally had told rediff.com that Hall had not responded to questions about employment in the anaesthesia faculty and that he had even filed a motion to compel her to answer. He said she also avoided answering about the incidents in which UT security prevented him from entering the campus and meeting Indian faculty and students.
The university, represented by Sara Hall, general counsel with the University of Tennessee, assured rediff.com of a response to questions on the matter, but sent none, despite multiple requests.
Boinapally also took up the matter with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which ruled in his favour. It found mixed cause because the university had asked him to sign a letter stating that he would not file a lawsuit, says Boinapally. The department of labour too ordered the university to pay him back wages that it had avoided paying.
After he decided to file the case, he says, the university's security staff did not let him go to the library on a number of occasions.
Boinapally says the matter has affected his personal life and his relations with his wife, a resident of Ohio, are severely strained. The Indian community, he adds, has been unwilling to help him out.
He says he isn't sure if he will settle with the university if such a situation arises but that, for the present, he wanted to vindicate Indian dignity, honour and pride in a US federal court. He has already met Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra and submitted a memorandum in this regard, he says.
Bonaipally has a similar lawsuit pending against the State University of New York in Buffalo. SUNY Buffalo had terminated him in 1995, citing academic reasons.
According to a report in American Medical News, Hall claimed that Dr Boinapally had not mentioned in his application that he had been sacked from SUNY, Buffalo. Boinapally, though, told rediff.com that he had told both Zanella and Jeffrey Blalalack, another member the faculty, about it during his interview at UT. And that they gave him a signed letter the same day.
In a document he has drawn up to highlight his cause, Boinapally says that at SUNY Buffalo, he had spearheaded a campaign to ensure equality and fairness to all south Asian immigrant resident physicians. He had active support from two Pakistani physicians in filing the lawsuit against the university.
"In Buffalo 2 Jewish [faculty members] were extremely jealous and envious of me, that turned into pathological hatred... My evaluations by everybody else were good to excellent..." He says he and the two Pakistanis were "victims of Jewish hatred".
Boinapally says he was widely acclaimed for his efforts there and received active support from students and Indians of the area. His efforts, the document states, forced SUNY Buffalo to publicly apologize to the Asian community. He says he refused to settle with the university and proposes to continue fighting the case with them later.
"We temporarily stayed the case because the lawyer we hired went to the same department we had sued and gave a lecture." According to him, she was "actively hobnobbing with the chairman". The case, he stresses, is still active.
According to AMN, regarding the current case, Hall said, "Dr Boinapally received poor evaluations from the beginning. We gave him several chances to improve. We counselled him. When he didn't [improve], we had to terminate him."
AMN also reported that school officials had claimed that the incidents Boinapally cited did actually happen, though these incidents had nothing to do with his termination.
A few questions remain: If the incidents Boinapally mentions indeed occurred, then weren't the people who insulted and assaulted him reprimanded? How come only Boinapally got it in the neck? Did all the others involved respond to counselling, if indeed they received it? And why did he have to go instead of the others? Why was the earlier charge against Boinapally regarding patient safety dropped? There are other questions, of course. A great many, not including the ones UT didn't answer.
While it isn't clear that Boinapally didn't actually fall short of the department's expectations, it is almost certain that, in the final assay, he still got a terrible deal.
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