Sunday, March 19, 2000

Jury to hear cardiologist's claims

UC demotion unfair, she says

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An Indian cardiologist's claim that the University of Cincinnati demoted her because of her sex and national origin goes to trial Monday.

        Dr. Geetha Bhat also says UC retaliated when she complained and made life so miserable she had to quit.

        None of that was true, UC attorney Doreen Canton reiterated on eve of the trial.

        Defendants are UC and Dr. Richard Walsh, then-director of cardiology at the medical school.

        In pretrial arguments, Ms. Canton persuaded U.S. District Judge Sandra S. Beckwith to grant summary judg ment to the defense on many of Dr. Bhat's claims.

        However, the judge found unresolved questions on the remaining claims and left them to jurors to decide whom to believe.

        That and a failure to settle her claims assured Monday's confrontation.

        The judge dropped Dr. John Hutton, dean of the medical school, as a defendant. Even if there was discrimination, she said, there was no evidence that he participated.

        Many of the facts are not at issue.

        Dr. Bhat — a UC-trained physician with a doctorate in physical organic chemistry — was hired in 1985 and promoted to director of UC's troubled heart failure/transplantation program in 1990.

        Improved patient survival earned her a promotion to associate professor in 1991 and full professor in 1995.

        In 1994, Drs. Walsh and Bhat agreed to hire another cardiologist to share the work but a conflict developed quickly between Dr. Bhat and the younger newcomer.

        Then disaster struck the transplant program. In 1995, five heart transplant patients died after inhaling airborne aspergillus fungus.

        Outside consultants blamed the fungus on conditions in the physical plant and continuing construction but also questioned patient selection, treatment, and communication problems within the program.

        In May 1996, Dr. Bhat complied with Dr. Walsh's request to quit as director of heart transplantation, while remaining a full professor of medicine on the same salary.

        About a year later, Dr. William Abraham, a white physician in his 30s, succeeded her.

        Meanwhile, her younger female associate was acting director and invested with authority that Dr. Bhat said she never had as director. That led to the humiliating encounters and additional harassment by Dr. Walsh that Dr. Bhat blamed in part for her decision to leave the medical school.

        Contributing to this also were a shorter-than-expected reappointment as professor, a salary cut and efforts by Dr. Walsh to get the University of Louisville to hire her to head its transplant program, Dr. Bhat said.

        Dr. Bhat, now in her mid-50s, took the Louisville job in October 1997, and sued.


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