Penn Medicine Sued for Discriminating Against Researcher with Mental Health Problems

Image Source: Sage Ross

The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that supervisors in the Ivy League school’s medical department accused a woman of not being “mentally capable” of doing her job because she suffered from anxiety caused by threats she received while working.

She claims her supervisors degradingly referred to her in the third person during meetings, and verbally abused and harassed her.

Jacqueline Jaffe O’Dour began working as a clinical research coordinator for the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in June of 2006. She says that throughout the course of her employment, she performed her job functions in a “dutiful and competent manner.”

Things went awry however after she led a focus group that Penn promised to pay participants for. According to the complaint, shortly after the focus group testing ended, O’Dour says she began receiving threatening voicemails from participants who claimed they were never paid.

She says the threats got so bad that she had to take a one week leave to cope with anxiety related to them. During her leave she relayed her concerns about the threats, as well as suggested possible adjustments to the payment methods in order to avoid future incidents. According to the complaint, her concerns and suggestions were completely disregarded.

Upon her return from leave, O’Dour says she was called in to a meeting where a supervisor lost their temper and stated, “if she ever questions [our] decisions, she should leave Penn” and “who do you think you are to tell patients when they will receive their pay,” according to the complaint.

The supervisor was verbally abusive throughout the meeting, and repeatedly made reference to O’Dour’s mental state and competency. O’Dour says she felt this was discriminatory given her recent leave for anxiety issues, according to the complaint.

O’Dour says the supervisor continued to harass her regarding her mental health following the meeting, demanding to know her medicine regimen and suggesting she be placed on probation. According to the complaint, the supervisor repeatedly suggested to O’Dour and other employees that O’Dour was not mentally capable of performing her duties.

O’Dour, fed up, complained to Penn’s legal department via her own attorneys regarding the instances of discrimination and harassment. According to the complaint, she was subsequently demoted to a part-time role in retaliation, losing her health insurance in the process. She says Penn falsely accused her of poor performance on a grant study as pretext for the demotion.

“As a result of this aforesaid discriminatory and retaliatory employment practices … [O’Dour] was constructively terminated from her employment with [Penn]…” the complaint states.

She now sues the Ivy League institution, its medical school and its board of trustees on two counts, both discrimination and retaliation related. She is represented by attorney Kevin I. Lovitz. Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg is set to preside.

Representatives from Penn’s media resources department did not return a message requesting comment.