In early 2009, Sagun Tuli, MD, Harvard’s first female spinal surgeon, was awarded over $1.5 million in damages incurred from a hostile work environment, including discrimination and retaliation, at the hands of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and its then chief of neurosurgery, Arthur L. Day, MD.
A seven-week trial by jury found Brigham and Women’s and Day responsible for creating a severe hostile work environment that was motivated in part by Tuli’s gender and/or national origin (she was born in India). Day, who has had three gender bias cases brought against him in the recent past, including Tuli’s, resigned from his Harvard post in December 2009.
Now, less than a year after Day’s resignation, the University of Texas (UT) has hired and appointed him as residency program director and vice chair for education at the UT medical school’s neurosurgery department at the UT Health Science Center (UTHealth) in Houston. Day, who started his new position on July 1, will once again play a supervisory role for students and residents.
Day’s arrival at UTHealth has stirred up controversy and concern. While some female students, faculty, and employees are outraged at his hiring, UTHealth administration and officials hold steadfast to their decision. Giuseppe Colasurdo, MD, UT medical school dean, and Larry R. Kaiser, president of UTHealth both publicly expressed support for Day.
Tuli stated that Day repeatedly ridiculed and intimidated her. She claimed that Day made racist comments to her and sexist statements as well, such as, “You are just a girl, are you sure you can do that?” during surgery, while frequently referring to his female colleagues as “girls.” Once at a hospital dinner he requested that Tuli “get up on the table and dance for us to show the female residents how to behave.”
In sworn affidavits that supported Tuli’s case, department staff alleged that Day once pointed at the belly of a pregnant staffer and said, “We know what you’re doing at night” and also told a female employee who was counting money, “Sugar, I told you that you don’t have to pay for what I do for you.” He was also notorious for displaying an 8-inch phallic statue on his desk, and once downloaded sexually explicit images onto a nurse’s PDA.