SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Four LSU Health Science employees went public Wednesday with claims they have been continually discriminated against during their time at the medical school in Shreveport, in spite of the LSU Board of Supervisors finding that there is not enough evidence to support their Title IX complaints.
They have since filed EEOC complaints and are calling for the removal of Dr. G.E. Ghali as Chancellor, who they allege mishandled their complaints about discrimination and engaged in retaliation himself.
The next step, they say, could be a lawsuit.
Shreveport employment and civil rights attorney Allison Jones says LSU media policy prohibited her clients from talking about the Title IX allegations made against the medical school and Dr. Ghali and that they were never interviewed or even contacted by anyone within the LSU Health system about their claims.
“My clients have been told that their names were not going to be made public. They have been told that the matter would be handled privately,” said Jones. “The accusers were never heard. Their names were made public.”
They were forced to come forward when they learned state legislators were allowed in on the closed LSU Board of Supervisors hearing about their claims, according to Jones, who says it was allowed to happen under a long-standing but never-before-used state law that allows lawmakers to attend hearings in Title IX-related investigations.
“When you work in a toxic environment, you have two choices. You can leave or you can stay and try to make it better,” Dr. Sharon Dunn said Wednesday as she joined the other three women who filed the EEOC complaints in Jones’ office to speak publicly to the media for the first time. “We have conscientiously and carefully considered those options and we choose to stay and fight.”
The group claims under the supervision of Dr. Ghali, they were continually exposed to an environment of discrimination, hostility, and retaliation, based solely on gender.
“During my tenure at LSUHSC, I experienced ongoing gender discrimination, including but not limited to denial of networking and promotion opportunities, and being subjected to a gender-based hostile work environment where I have been called various disgusting and obscene names,” reads the complaint filed by Dr. Jennifer Woerner, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.
“All we’re doing is standing up and speaking the truth and asking for action to be taken and I certainly wish that we would’ve been given that opportunity.” said Dr. Christi Renaudo. Her EEOC complaint makes similar allegations of gender-based discrimination and retaliation.
“I have not been treated the same as my similarly situated male co-workers/supervisor,” Dr. Renaudo said in the complaint. She has been with LSUHSC in Shreveport since 2003 and currently serves as Director of Academic Affairs and Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Christina Notarianni, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, alleged in her EEOC complaint that she was passed over for the position of Assistant Dean of Admissions in July 2020 because of her support for Dr. Anil Nanda following his forceful and unexpected removal in 2017 from his position as Chairman of the Neurosurgery Department. Notarianni was among those who signed a petition to reinstate Nanda, calling his removal “rash” and a “personal attack” that would negatively impact patients, the community, employees, and the neurosurgical residency program.
“I was told by the Dean of the Medical School that if I wanted to even be considered by the Chancellor for this position, I would need to schedule an appointment with the Chancellor and apologize for my actions in 2017,” Notarianni said, alleging that she was specifically told to “go kiss the ring” of the chancellor, Dr. Ghali – an apparent reference to the famed scene in the film, ‘The Godfather.’
Notarianni claims she did make an appointment with Ghali and apologized for “hurting his feelings,” that what happened in 2017 was in the past, and that she did not want him to hold her actions against her in consideration for the new position. Still, Notarianni says she got a form letter two days thanking her for application and that the only other internal candidate was selected for the job.
Notarianni also claims she later learned from members of the search committee that she had outscored the person who got the job and that the committee never met to make a final recommendation. Instead, she says she was told Ghali had made the decision unilaterally and in retaliation for her support of Nanda three years earlier.
Dr. Dunn, who has worked at LSUHSC for 28 years and served the last two in the role of the Dean of the School of Allied Health, says in her complaint that she had exceptional working conditions and support from her administrators until she became Dean and under the current Chancellor’s direction.
“I entered the dean search process in May of 2018 and from that moment, have been bullied and targeted, despite earning the job through the year-long, 2-cycle search process,” Dunn said in her statement, alleging that “From the beginning, there have been suggestions for me to make leadership appointments without a search process, admit less than qualified or less competitive students to several of our programs, and/or carry out directives within my school that I disagree with, and when I disagree or suggest a different direction, I am either bullied or retaliated against.”
Dunn also alleges gender-based pay and lack of contract status compared to her similarly positioned male colleagues and race-based discrimination in the form of “a recent insidious narrative directed at me personally and the SAHP about our need to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in our faculty, staff, and student cohorts,” despite well-established and ongoing efforts to address these concerns. “I am being unfairly targeted, even though I believe this effort is just beginning and is not for lack of attention and effort over the last two years.”
Altogether, the doctors bringing the allegations have seven decades of experience at LSU Health Science. One of them says she chose to stand up as an example to her daughter after years of workplace hostility.
“I still vividly know what it feels like to believe like she believes,” Dr. Woerner said. “To believe in yourself to think that you can achieve anything. Regardless of who you are or where you come from your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your sexuality. And I want to know what it’s like to feel like that again.”
“The institution has investigated every complaint to date and taken appropriate actions. LSU Health Shreveport stands ready to defend itself against these latest allegations,” the hospital said in a statement released on April 13, the day after the EEOC complaints were filed and Ghali was placed on administrative leave.
LSUHSC has declined to comment on the release Wednesday of the EEOC complaints or the allegations they contain.
Jones says EEOC claims usually take about six months to be investigated.
The federal complaints against LSU Health Shreveport come as LSU grapples with a system-wide Title IX scandal after a review prompted by an independent report determined LSU for years mishandled its response to student allegations of rape, domestic violence and assault, in some instances ignoring the claims entirely.