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Ex-Radiology Resident Sues Over Insomnia

April 11, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Practice Management
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A former radiology resident has sued Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and four of its physicians, saying they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against her and eventually terminating her residency because of her insomnia.

The lawsuit by Christyna Faulkner, MD, says her termination and statements by Dartmouth-Hitchcock supervisors have prevented her from obtaining another residency or other employment as a radiologist. Her lawyer, George Campbell, said Dr. Faulkner was working as a Whole Foods Market clerk in New York and should be compensated by Dartmouth-Hitchcock. However, he told The Dartmouth (the daily student newspaper at Dartmouth College):

It’s not possible for her to be made whole for the loss of her dream and the years invested in training and the trust she invested in the institutions that betrayed her.

According to Campbell and the lawsuit, Dr. Faulkner began her radiology residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in July 2008. She was regularly assigned to overnight call, as were her fellow residents. The lawsuit says she told her superior, Jocelyn Chertoff, MD, vice chair of radiology, that she suffered from severe, chronic insomnia. (Dr. Chertoff is one of the four physicians named in the suit. The others are radiology residency program Director Anne Silas, MD, radiology Chair Peter Spiegel, MD, and graduate medical education Dean Marc Bertrand, MD.)

The lawsuit says Michael Sateia, MD, director of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, diagnosed Dr. Faulkner with chronic insomnia and shift work sleep disorder and recommended that she not be assigned to overnight call. After four months of being excused, the suit says, she was again required in July 2009 to take overnight call.

According to the suit, Dr. Faulkner left Dartmouth-Hitchcock for a temporary residency rotation in Boston and returned in 2010. She was not required to take overnight call, but her insomnia worsened, and, on recommendation of her physicians, she took medical leave, the suit says. Just before she was to return from leave, the suit says, Dartmouth-Hitchcock terminated her residency.

She applied to other residency programs and requested recommendation letters from Drs. Chertoff and Silas, the suit says. The suit says Dr. Chertoff wrote that Dr. Faulkner “had medical issues that had a significant impact on her performance, and on her satisfaction with our department, despite what we thought was appropriate accommodations.” The suit says either Dr. Chertoff or Dr. Silas falsely told potential employers that Dr. Faulkner had been on probation.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock representatives declined to comment. Dr. Faulkner elaborates on her version of events in a petition at Change.org.

The Dartmouth reports that three other lawsuits by former residents are pending against Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The suits claim, respectively, wrongful termination for reporting a fellow surgical resident for ethical violations, discrimination because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and coercion, stress, and abuse that led to wrongful termination.

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