Nine doctors accused the University of Colorado School of Medicine of anti-Semitism and age discrimination in a letter delivered to the CU Board of Regents on Thursday.
The nine took the unusual step of asking regents to look into the charges of discrimination and mistreatment in the School of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology, chaired by Dr. Vesna Todorovic.
The letter, provided to Colorado Politics, says the university recently lost a federal lawsuit filed by Dr. Jeffrey Gonzales, a former member of the anesthesiology department. A jury found that he had been retaliated against by the university for his claims of discrimination on Dec. 20 and awarded Gonzales $500,000 for lost wages and an additional $180,000 for non-economic damages. CU denied the allegations, according to court documents.
Three of the signatories to the letter say they attempted to testify on Gonzales' behalf. The university attempted to block their testimony, but Judge Brooke Jackson allowed two of them — Dr. Susan Mandell and Dr. Stephanie Strauss — to testify.
Gonzales is not the only employee at the School of Medicine who has experienced discrimination and retaliation, the nine wrote in the letter.
"We have done this, not for economic gain, but because there is an abusive and unhealthy hostile environment that has led to many talented doctors and researchers" forced out of the department, fired or not having their contracts renewed, they wrote.
The nine are all over the age of 50; eight of the nine are Jewish.
University spokesman Ken McConnellogue accepted the letter Thursday on behalf of the regents, but in a statement to Colorado Politics said the regents don't investigate discrimination complaints. "We have a campus-based process for that," he said.
School of Medicine spokesman Mark Couch said they had not seen the letter, and did not respond to a request to interview Todorovic.
The faculty who claim to have been targeted work at either Children's Hospital, the CU School of Medicine or both, but all are under the Department of Anesthesiology. Mandell said there are three Jewish doctors left. Two are functioning under "letters of expectation" and fear for their jobs, she said.
"The reputation of the department" is being damaged by these discriminatory practices, the letter continues. "Repeated outcries from older and Jewish doctors" have been made to Dean John Reilly, who has done nothing, they said.
Mandell said an investigation into the matter was performed by the outside group Employment Compliance Solutions.
Mandell spoke on behalf of the nine Thursday, stating that the problems in the department began in 2016, when Todorovic became department chair.
"We see a very clear pattern of exit from the department," Mandell, who has worked for CU for 25 years, said, adding that people aren't leaving because they want to — they're being forced out or contracts haven't been renewed. "The regents have to look into this. There has been severe retaliation against those who have complained about it."
The nine want the regents to have a chance to respond, believing they are unaware of the situation, and to help mediate the situation. "They're the guardians of the University and have its best interests at heart," Mandell said.
Rep. Dafna Michaelson-Jenet, D-Aurora, in whose district the facility is located, said the letter is troubling. Michaelson-Jenet, who is Jewish, said she would reach out to the university and share her concerns, and find out what they plan to do about the situation. She also invited the doctors to contact her directly.
Scott Levin, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region said the "allegations of anti-Semitism, as well as age and racial discrimination, in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine are disturbing and shocking. We call upon the Board of Regents to take this matter seriously and to order a full, fair and immediate investigation.”
Gonzales filed his lawsuit against the University in U.S. District Court in May 2018. Gonzales was part of Acute Pain Service within the department, but left on March 4, 2018, after a dispute with APS head Dr. Matthew Fiegel, according to court documents. A few days later, Gonzales reported that he received a copy of a text message sent by Fiegel regarding a position that Gonzales should apply for because "there's an opening for a Mexican."
Gonzales is seeking reinstatement with the University, according to the letter issued by the doctors.
According to CBS4, a letter of support for Todorovic has been submitted by 13 doctors in the department. The University is appealing the Gonzales judgment, the station reported.