Tulane Medical School Professor Says Top Male Doctors Created 'Hostile' Workplace For Women

Sep 30, 2019

Top male professors at Tulane University School of Medicine created a "long-standing hostile and discriminatory work environment" for the women physicians, researchers and staff  who worked there, according to a complaint filed in federal court by Tulane medical school professor and physician Dr. Lesley Saketkoo.

In the complaint, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Saketkoo says Tulane University School of Medicine professor and pulmonologist Dr. Joseph Lasky verbally abused women employees, underpaid them, took credit for their research and passed them over for professional opportunities, giving them instead to less qualified male colleagues. She also alleges Tulane medical school dean Dr. Lee Hamm, knew about Lasky’s behavior, but failed to act, and that the university's Office of Institutional Equity, likewise failed to protect Saketkoo's civil rights.

"This work environment was no secret. The School of Medicine’s Dean, Dr. Hamm, knew about it, did nothing and – worse – protected the bad actors. Tulane University’s Office of Institutional Equity (“OIE”) likewise did nothing to end it," the complaint reads.

The university says it "thoroughly investigated" Saketkoo's complaint, and found "no violations of Tulane policy."

In addition, Saketkoo's complaint alleges Lasky was physically threatening toward Saketkoo and other women. In one alleged encounter, Saketkoo says Lasky became agressive during an argument over whether Saketkoo had informed him about her teaching schedule,"red-faced, trembling and pointing his finger driving it into [Saketkoo's] face yelling 'if I say I wasn’t told about something, that’s the end of it and I wasn’t told about it!'" The complaint says Saketkoo feared for her physical safety.

The complaint also alleges Lasky has referred to women he worked with as "not team players," "bitches," and "the enemy."

According to the lawsuit, Saketkoo was terminated from her salaried position in the section of pulmonary medicine by Hamm and Lasky a few months after she sought relief from Tulane’s Office of Institutional Equity. Saketkoo remains employed by Tulane as a professor, and still has admitting privileges at the Tulane University Medical Center.

The complaint states that Saketkoo was terminated from the pulmonology section because of Lasky's concerns over her "productivity." But Saketkoo says she was bringing in more research funding than other male colleagues who were not terminated. She also says there was a pattern of male management "usurping" funding brought into the medical school by women physicians and researchers, redistributing the funding to studies of male colleagues, and then labeling the women as “not productive."

In addition, the complaint says Tulane School of Medicine routinely pays women employees less than men who are equally or less qualified.

A spokesman for Tulane, Michael Strecker, says the university does not comment on pending litigation, but that the university "thoroughly investigated" Saketkoo’s complaint. Below is the entire response.

Tulane is an equal opportunity employer committed to maintaining an engaged, fair and respectful work culture which recognizes, rewards and values the contributions of all employees regardless of race, religion, national origin, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability. Our Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) thoroughly investigated the allegations made by Dr. Saketkoo and found no violations of Tulane policy. In keeping with our longstanding practices, we do not comment on pending litigation.

Records obtained by WWNO show the university conducted a preliminary investigation into Lasky’s behavior after Saketkoo was terminated, but did not find enough information to support a violation of equal opportunity policies. Below is part of the response Saketkoo recieved from the unversity after reporting Lasky's behavior.

Tulane's Office of Institutional Equity conducted a preliminary investigation and in consultation with the Chair for Faculty Grievance Committee (FGC) for the School of Medicine it was determined that there is insufficient information to support a finding of an Equal Opportunity Policy violation. As such, it isunnecessary to convene the FGC for further review and consideration of this matter. Accordingly, this matter will be administratively closed and no further action/investigation into this matter will occur at this time. We have, nonetheless, shared your concerns with the Dean of the School of Medicine.

The lawsuit, however, claims key witnesses were never contacted in the university's investigation.

Saketkoo says she continues to face retribution from Lasky for reporting his alleged behavior - that Lasky tried to have Saketkoo removed from studies she was working on, and from hospitals and treatment centers where she works in addition to her job at Tulane.

Saketkoo to is seeking damages to be determined at trial.

Neither Lasky or Hamm responded to request for comment by our deadline.