Harassed Pro Choice Doctor Gets Million Dollar Lawsuit Settlement

 Retaliation  Because of Fight for Abortion Training Gets Doc Million Dollar Lawsuit Settlement

A $1.4 million dollar settlement was reached last week in this important case about a doctor's advocacy for reproductive rights.

Here's the story as reported by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Dr. Christopher Carey served for many years as both Chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Director of the Obstetrics & Gynecology Residency Program at Maricopa County Hospital in Phoenix.

While in that position, Dr. Carey supported providing OB/GYN residents the opportunity to participate in abortion training if they so desired.

Carey also spoke out against the efforts of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and others who wanted to end those training opportunities.

As a result, Carey claimed he was harassed and retaliated against  by the Board of Supervisors and other officials who:

  • carried on an eighteen month campaign to force Carey out of his position
  • spread false statements which damaged his reputation
  • worked to block his re-appointment to the Medical Staff
  • conducted multiple baseless investigations
  • voted to remove him from his position at the hospital

Carey was terminated from his position in September of 2004.

Carey sued alleging that his Constitutional rights were violated under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,  and that he was discriminated against because of his religious and moral beliefs.

A settlement of $1.4 million dollars was announced on May 22nd by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges which represented Dr. Carey. The case was set to go to trial on June 23rd.

In an interview after the settlement, Dr. Carey said:


I am extremely pleased with the settlement, but it’s important to remember that the shortage of abortion providers in this country is extensive.

A resident’s ability to obtain abortion training is crucial to ensuring women receive quality health care when they need it.

No doubt Dr. Carey is a real champion on this very important and controversial issue.  It's reassuring to many of us that Dr. Carey was vindicated.

In addition to the important principles concerning  quality health care, and freedom free from discrimination and retaliation,  there's a broader lesson to be learned from this case.

It was simply stated by Janet Crepps, deputy director of he U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights who said:  "Personal politics have no place in medical care."

It's not often that we see cases which send this message -- let's hope it gets delivered.

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Odd Bedfellows Agree on Dumping "Conscience Rule"

It's rare that you see the Society for Human Resource Managers ("SHRM") and the ACLU on the same side of an issue -- but that's what's going on with their opposition to the federal regulation called the "conscience rule."

The "conscience rule,"  enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services, is the most  recent and thankfully one of  the last vestiges of the fundamentalist appeasing Bush Administration.

The regulation prohibits employment discrimination against health care workers who refuse certain services based on "religious beliefs" or  "moral objections"  -- such as providing abortions or birth control.

The final rule, entitled Ensuring That Department of Health and Human Services Funds Do Not Support Coercive or Discriminatory Policies or Practices in Violation of Federal Law, was published in the Federal Register on December 19, 2008.

The Department of Health and Human Service served notice a couple of weeks ago that it intends to rescind the regulation which went into effect on January 20th, the day President Obama took office.

There were many opponents of  the regulation when it was proposed last fall as reported in a recent article in the New York Times about Obama's plan "to undo the rule," The American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood, for example, said the rule could void state laws requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. It could also allow drugstore employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives.

According to the  same New York Times  article  several states have filed legal challenges against the December 19th regulation:

Attorney General Richard Blumentahal of Connecticut sued in federal court on behalf of his state and several others. He issued a statement at the end of February  saying that his suit will continue until the rule 'is finally stopped.'

The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians made this announcement when the rule when it went into effect:

Today's regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the guise of 'protecting' the conscience of health care providers, is yet another reminder of the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures.

In addition to concerns for women's health, opponents of the regulation correctly point out that  the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already offers broad protection against discrimination based on religion. Title VII requires that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious practices and beliefs.

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Top 2009 Priorities for EEOC

There was an interesting piece by Catherine Moreton Gray which reported Peggy Mastroianni's (associate legal counsel for the EEOC)  talk at the Society for Human Resource Managers Employment Law and Legislative Conference  in Washington last week. In that discussion, Mastroianni outlined the Commission's top priorities for 2009.

Here's what she listed:  

Enforcement of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act: The EEOC will look closely at complaints it dismissed since May 27, 2007, the effective date of the Act to see if reinstatement is appropriate.  She said that the agency did not expect a surge in wage claims as a result of the new law.  It will be interesting to see if her prediction is correct.

GINA:  I wrote a post about the Genetic Information Non Discrimination Act in February.  In short, GINA prohibits the use of  genetic tests concerning an employee's own or family's medical history to make an employment decision.The EEOC is in the process of formulating regulations for enforcement of the Act.  There will be more to come about this law once the regulations are published.

ADA Amendments Act (ADAA):  The EEOC is working on proposed regulations for the ADAA. The big change of course is that the definition of the term disability will be construed broadly so that more people will be covered by the Act consistent with the Act's original intent. Mitigating measures, such as medications or prosthetic devices, can't be considered for purposes of determining whether a person is disabled.

I attended a Society for Human Resource Management Conference a couple of months ago.  The panel of management lawyers from the large firms all agreed on the advice to the HR manager attendees:  "treat everyone as disabled and accommodate." 

This is a good thing and it's about time.  According to Gray's article, one of  Mastroianni's remarks about the new amendments:  "employer's doing the reasonable thing won't have to make any changes."  We'll see.

Religious Discrimination:  I thought this discussion was  very interesting,  Three areas mentioned were:

  1. Scheduling cases: While an employer is not required to make other employees swap shifts to accommodate scheduling around religious observances, they can't interfere with employees switching on a volunteer basis
  2. Muslim prayer breaks:  Observant Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Employers may need to stagger breaks to accommodate this request so long as it does not pose an undue hardship on the business. This apparently has been a problem.
  3. Modifying duties: If pharmacists do not want to fill prescriptions for contraceptives on religious grounds, the employer may  have to accommodate and pass the prescription on to another pharmacist. Again, this is a story we have heard about, and it's good to see that the EEOC is tackling it.

We'll be talking more about these topics as the regulations and new cases get reported.

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