by Daniel J. Burnick, Attorney at Law
Sirote & Permutt, P.C.
Over the years, I have been involved in numerous cases involving employment discrimination. The claims involve all types of workplaces, including accounting firms, insurance firms, manufacturing plants, automobile dealerships, law firms and even in the medical profession. No industry or profession is immune from allegations of discrimination. The types of claims involve sexual harassment, racial discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, disability discrimination and family medical leave discrimination. No position is immune from claims of discrimination: I have handled claims against presidents and other officers of corporations, human resources directors, supervisors and co-workers.
A recent case out of New York has received a lot of publicity. ABC News reported last month that Sandra Morris, a hospital technician at Mount Saint Sinai Hospital in New York, worked in an operating room where Dr. Ahmet Cercioglu, a Cardiovascular Perfusionist and her immediate supervisor, allegedly watched X-rated movies on his cell phone while he was operating equipment that keeps patients alive while undergoing bypass surgery. Dr. Cercioglu also allegedly called her a “dumb Jew bitch” and a JAP, short for Jewish American Princess, in front of co-workers at a farewell party. Ms. Morris also alleges that Dr. Ricardo Lazala, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon and a secondary supervisor, stated that she could not work on some cases “because she doesn't have a dick” and that they would “never hire a woman again.” On July 31, 2012, Ms. Morris filed a lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Cercioglu, alleging sex and religious discrimination; allegations of a hostile work environment in which other Perfusionists “routinely joked about his behavior;” and that she was not paid the proper amount for overtime. She was fired after being off work for six months on unpaid leave as the result of an on-the-job injury, but is not challenging this decision.
At this time, the lawsuit contains only allegations against Dr. Cercioglu and the hospital, and the hospital issued a statement that the hospital “maintains strong policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace and does not tolerate behavior that violates these policies. Mount Sinai is confident that Ms. Morris will not prevail on her claims.”
Notwithstanding the denial, what impact has this lawsuit had on Dr. Cercioglu and the hospital? First, there is bad publicity, not only in New York, but around the United States and even the world. A quick Google search shows that this story has been picked up by the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, and by YahooLifestyle, in which the headline reads “Sex Scandal Hit US Hospital Accused of Horny Grey’s Anatomy-Like Ambiance.” Second, a great deal of time and effort will be spent interfering with the daily activities of the hospital, doctors and employees due to the investigation by the attorneys, preparing for and attendance at depositions, reviewing records and trial testimony, if the case gets that far. Third, the expense of defending a claim such as this will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more based on rates charged by attorneys in New York City. Finally, one can only hope that no patients suffered any complications and/or passed away as the result of surgeries that involved Dr. Cercioglu. If so, it is likely that these allegations will factor into the malpractice claims as well.
Although the lawsuit has just been filed and there has been no finding of any wrongdoing at this time, the damage has already been done. It is important to realize that at work, any improper conduct can ultimately result in a lawsuit being filed. Media outlets look for sensational stories, and I imagine that if this happened in Birmingham, Ala. it would be on the front page of the Birmingham News, the lead story on TV stations, and discussed on talk radio. To quote Sgt. Phil Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”