A residency program director at Tulane Medical School was suspended from her leadership role last week, months after suing the institution for racial and gender discrimination, according to legal documents.
Princess Dennar, MD, director of the Medicine-Pediatrics residency program at Tulane — and the first and only Black woman to serve in a director role at the institution — filed a lawsuit against her employer last October, alleging sexist and racist behavior by her superiors.
The physician, who is still employed by Tulane, was quoted by a local publication, The Lens, as saying her removal was retaliation for the suit. Neither Dennar nor her lawyer responded to a request for comment from MedPage Today.
Dennar’s complaint alleges more than a decade of discriminatory behavior, starting when she was interviewed for the director role. Dennar claims that the director of the internal medicine (IM) residency program, Jeffrey Wiese, MD, and the dean of the medical school, Lee Hamm, MD, “orchestrated and carried out” discriminatory conduct.
Neither Wiese nor Hamm are named as defendants in the complaint.
In a statement to MedPage Today, Tulane spokesperson Michael Strecker said that the leadership change of the Med-Peds program followed a recommendation by a panel of reviewers. The review panel met in light of a 2018 warning citation issued against Dennar’s program.
“Dr. Dennar has the opportunity to appeal that recommendation and she remains a member of our faculty regardless of the outcome of this process,” Strecker said.
In 2008, when Dennar was interviewed to be Med-Peds director, Hamm told her that the institution “did not want to change the face of Tulane,” Dennar alleged in her complaint. She alleged that Hamm said, “I’m afraid that white medical students wouldn’t follow or rank favorably a program with a Black program director; [however] we’ll be comfortable with you sharing a position as co-director with the previous [white male Med-Peds] program director.”
Dennar eventually assumed sole leadership, and drove the Med-Peds program to full accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in 2009. However, her complaint states that resident scheduling responsibilities shifted to Wiese, director of the internal medicine program. Wiese allegedly denied residents in the Med-Peds program rotations in critical care, as well as elective and subspecialty time, which jeopardized their ability to fulfill education requirements.
“In essence, Dr. Wiese was allocating more than the required elective/subspecialty time to the Internal Medicine residents and taking it away from residents who were under Dr. Dennar’s authority in the Med-Peds residency,” Dennar’s complaint states. “Of note, a significant portion of those residents were minority females as opposed to the Internal Medicine department.”
In 2017, Dennar served as a witness after her program coordinator made a racial discrimination complaint against Wiese’s program manager, Dennar’s complaint stated. After the investigation found evidence of discrimination and Wiese’s staff member left Tulane, Dennar alleged that she and her residents experienced retaliation.
Additional complaints about the Med-Peds program were submitted to the ACGME in January 2018 by one Black female resident, and again three months later by a group of seven Black female residents, according to the complaint. Dennar also filed a complaint with the school’s equity office at this time, accusing Wiese of race- and gender-based discrimination. This included prohibiting minority students from completing the necessary rotations to graduate, shrinking the size of the Med-Peds program, and prohibiting Dennar from doing her job.
In June of 2018, the ACGME conducted a site visit at Tulane and issued Dennar’s program an official warning. A few months after the visit, the ACGME released a report stating that race- and gender-based discrimination was a possible reason for the deficiencies in the Med-Peds program. The report stated that “it was noted that the medicine pediatrics residency program has more individuals of color than the IM program, and an association could not be excluded,” the complaint read.
The ACGME stated that it is unable to comment on this case as there is still pending litigation.
Dennar’s case is not the first discrimination suit filed against leadership at Tulane. Lesley Saketkoo, MD, a rheumatologist at Tulane, sued for gender discrimination in September 2019, naming Hamm as a defendant. Additionally, Med-Peds resident Ocheowelle Okeke, MD, sued Wiese and the school for discrimination last year.
Since her suspension, Dennar has received an outpouring of support on social media platforms, and has raised $50,000 for legal support. Uché Blackstock, MD, an emergency physician and founder of Advancing Health Equity, said on Twitter that Dennar’s story is an example of systemic racism in academic medicine.
“What happened to Dr. Princess Dennar at [Tulane Medicine] is not new and it’s not a ‘Dr. Dennar’ problem,” Blackstock said. “These institutions must be held accountable.”