Cedars-Sinai faces civil rights lawsuit over Black mother’s 2016 death

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, above, has been sued over alleged civil rights violations by the family of a Black woman who died there in 2016 after giving birth.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is facing a civil rights lawsuit accusing the hospital of racism over how it handled the care of a Black mother who died there in 2016.

Kira Dixon Johnson, 39 at the time, went to Cedars-Sinai in April 2016 to deliver her second son by cesarean section, but died hours later after hemorrhaging blood, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court by her husband, Charles Johnson. The lawsuit accuses the hospital of not providing the best care possible because Kira was a Black woman.

For the record:

1:14 p.m. May 6, 2022An earlier version of this article said Kira Dixon Johnson died days after her son was born. She died hours after the birth.

During a news conference Wednesday outside the hospital on Beverly Boulevard, Charles Johnson noted that this weekend would mark another Mother’s Day his wife would not be alive to celebrate the holiday with their children “because Cedars-Sinai failed her.”


“There’s no doubt in my mind that my wife would be here today and be here Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with her boys if she was a Caucasian woman,” Johnson said.

The lawsuit comes just as a separate wrongful death lawsuit over Kira’s death is slated to go to trial on May 11 in Los Angeles Superior Court. In 2017, Johnson filed a lawsuit for wrongful death and emotional distress against Cedars-Sinai and the doctor who attended to his wife during her hospital stay.

Attorneys for the Johnson family said they are alleging other violations under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination by private businesses in California based on race and other protected classes.

Nationally, nearly 700 women die each year of pregnancy complications, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, the CDC has found that some of the most common pregnancy-related complications include infections, cardiovascular issues, bleeding out, high blood pressure and pulmonary embolisms.

Black women had the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, with around 42 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2014 and 2017, according to the CDC. Hispanic or Latina women had the lowest rates, with nearly 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in the same timeframe. Black women are also between three and four times more likely to die from childbirth, according to the CDC.


According to both lawsuits, Kira was admitted to Cedars-Sinai for a cesarean delivery, but hours later, Johnson said he noticed Kira’s catheter was draining blood. Dr. Arjang Naim, Kira’s doctor, was made aware of her predicament and a “surgical emergency” CT scan was ordered.

The speech came after Harris toured UC San Francisco and met with families expecting children and healthcare workers about the university’s clinical program for Black mothers.

April 21, 2022

But the scan was never performed, according to the lawsuits. By the time Kira was sent in for surgery, doctors found three liters of blood in her abdomen, and she soon died from hemorrhagic shock due to the blood loss, the lawsuits say.

Cedars-Sinai officials said in an emailed statement to The Times that “federal privacy laws prevent us from responding directly about any patient’s care” and that the hospital has “a longstanding commitment to making any changes to ensure we provide patients with the highest level of care.”

“We reject any mischaracterization of our culture and values,” the statement said. “While disparities exist throughout our society, we are actively working to eradicate unconscious bias in healthcare and advance equity in healthcare more broadly. We commend Mr. Johnson for the attention he has brought to the important issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.”

Chris Dolan, an attorney representing Johnson and his two sons, pointed to previous depositions taken from Cedars-Sinai employees who said people of color are treated differently than white people. Those depositions are key to the civil rights lawsuit filed this week.

In a sworn deposition with Angelique Washington, a surgical technologist at Cedars-Sinai when Kira was there, Washington said they had “waited for quite some time for Kira to come down to surgery.” She went on to say that she often says “an extra prayer” for Black patients who come into the operating room out of fear they won’t receive proper care.


“This is Cedars’ own people, indicting Cedars for their failures,” Dolan said. “As this lawsuit proceeds forward more will be exposed, and hopefully what it’ll do is send a message to other hospitals and healthcare facilities that if you discriminate on the basis of someone’s color, we’re coming for you.”

The civil rights lawsuit alleges that Kira did not receive proper treatment because she was a Black woman, including being delayed care for more than 10 hours even though doctors knew she was hemorrhaging. At one point, the lawsuit said, a nurse told Johnson that his wife was “not a priority.”

Cedars-Sinai, one of the largest nonprofit academic medical centers in the nation and in Los Angeles, often helps with an estimated 6,200 births per year, according to the hospital’s website.