For 17 years, Dr. Roman Patel headed the nephrology division at Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center, believing he was doing a competent job. So when he said he was told he would be replaced in his post, he was baffled.
Befuddlement turned to anger and Patel filed a lawsuit July 14 against the hospital, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the dean of the medical college, alleging that he was wrongly removed from his post. Patel, 59, charges in his Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that hospital officials acted out of racial and age bias and violated his civil rights.
Hospital officials said they could not respond to the charges because they had not been served with any papers regarding Patel's suit.
Patel's suit is among four recent claims against the institution alleging discrimination. In January, Dr. William Shoemaker, 71, chairman of King-Drew's emergency department, sued the hospital, claiming he was unfairly reassigned because of race and age bias. Suits by two other doctors also allege race discrimination. Patel is East Indian, while two of the other doctors are white and one is black.
Two of the three lawsuits are pending in Superior Court; the third is on appeal. The hospital denies the allegations.
Patel, who assumed his post in 1975, claimed that he was removed in July, 1992, "with no allegation of misfeasance or misconduct. (Patel) was simply told that he would be removed in favor of another individual," his suit states. Patel's suit also says that he was forced to transfer to another department to escape the humiliation his removal caused. Dr. Harry Ward has been chief of the nephrology division since July, 1992.
Patel is seeking lost wages and benefits and unspecified damages.
He could not be reached for comment regarding the lawsuit or his status at the hospital. His attorney, Marcia Vincent of Newport Beach, refused to comment, stating that it was premature to discuss the case since not all of the defendants have been notified of the suit.
Attorney Joe Duff, legal adviser for the medical college, said Patel's personnel records list him as being on medical leave without pay since January, 1993. There is no indication in Patel's personnel records that he was removed from his position, Duff said.
Personnel records also show that Patel worked in internal medicine and family medicine, two specialty areas at the hospital, Duff said.
In the lawsuit, Patel claimed that he was not considered for the hospital post of chair of the department of medicine after serving as interim chairman from 1989 to 1991 and receiving "outstanding" performance ratings. Duff said Patel served in the post from late 1989 to October, 1990.
In both cases, Patel claims, younger, less experienced black doctors got the jobs.
"Having someone younger than you get a job doesn't prove age discrimination," Duff said. "We're prohibited from discriminating intentionally on the basis of age."
He added: "Typically what happens is that somebody serves as interim chair while officials search for a permanent chair. Being interim chair doesn't give you special standing."
Dr. A. Paul Kelly, who had served as interim chair of the same post in 1986, was appointed department chair instead of Patel, Duff said.
Patel's suit against the hospital also claims that he was being paid less than younger, less experienced doctors.
Duff said that allegation was unfounded: "Chairs get a supplement to their salary, what we would call an administrative supplement. (Patel) also got a bonus (when he was chair) too."