A New Orleans EMS ambulance at Tulane Medical Center. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

A Tulane School of Medicine administrator, who is suing the university for alleged discrimination, has been suspended from her position as program director of the school’s Medicine Pediatrics Residency program. In a Friday interview with The Lens, she said she believes her removal was retaliatory. 

She remains an employee of Tulane, in her position as medical director for another program within the school.

The administrator, Dr. Princess Dennar, was the first and only Black woman to hold the role of program director. She filed a lawsuit in October alleging racism and sexism on the part of the university and top administrators. It is one of several discrimination suits filed against the university in the past several years, all of which are still ongoing. 

“I believe my termination from the position is a direct result of the allegations,” Dennar told the Lens Friday afternoon.

The removal was announced to the program’s residents in an email on Thursday, sent by Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Education Paul Gladden. 

In an email to The Lens, Tulane spokesperson Michael Strecker denied that Dennar’s removal was retaliatory. Strecker wrote that the change came after an outside accreditation group, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education “placed the program Dr. Dennar was directing on ‘warning status.’” 

“This status change triggered an automatic review of the program by the Graduate Medical Education Committee, which is comprised of diverse Tulane faculty and medical residents from across the school and individuals from other institutions. It was the recommendation of this committee to remove Dr. Dennar as director.”

The lawsuit, filed in October, alleges that Dennar “observed and has been burdened by many acts of discrimination” that had stalled her career and hurt her program’s ability to recruit students.

Dennar declined to comment on the record on the specifics of the lawsuit, as did her lawyer, citing ongoing discovery.

The suit claims that Dr. Jeffrey Wiese, the medical school’s dean for Graduate Medical Education and Dr. Lee Hamm, the dean of the Tulane School of Medicine, “orchestrated and carried out” the allegedly discriminatory conduct.

According to Dennar’s lawsuit, Wiese oversees the school’s Graduate Medical Education Committee, the committee that recommended Dennar’s removal this week.

Neither Wiese nor Hamm immediately responded to requests for comment. 

Dennar was hired at Tulane as medical director of the Internal Medicine Residency Ambulatory Service in January 2008, and became co-program director of Medicine Pediatrics later that year, where she oversaw the residencies of medical school students.

She claims that she was initially named co-program director rather than sole director as a result of racial discrimination. According to the lawsuit, during the interview process, Hamm told Dennar that “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.”

According to Strecker’s statement, “Dr. Lee Hamm categorically denies the allegations of racist language made in Dr. Dennar’s suit.”

Dennar assumed the full directorship after a year of doing “100% of the supervisory and program planning work” while sharing “a 50% title,” the lawsuit states.

Dennar alleges that she was denied a promotion that would normally be made available to someone with her experience. Thirteen years into her time at the medical schools, she is still an assistant professor. In her suit, she claims that a promotion to associate professor typically comes after five to seven years “under normal progression.”

In 2017, Dennar acted as a witness in a separate racial discrimination case filed by one of her employees against one of Wiese’s employees. From there, the lawsuit alleges, she began to face retaliation from Wiese. That affected residents in the Medicine Pediatrics program, who allegedly saw their placements changed in unexpected ways without Dennar’s approval, that in some cases prevented them from getting required experience. Dennar also says she was blocked from key internal software and email lists.

The lawsuit also alleges that Dennar was forced to use a tool for ranking applicants to the residency that specifically discounted historically Black colleges and universities. 

And it says that investigations held by the ACGME, which Tulane says led to Dennar’s suspension, were triggered in part by complaints from Dennar and “seven Black female residents” over discriminatory conduct.

After the complaints, the lawsuit alleges, “ACGME extended an egregious site visitor issued a citation to the Internal Medicine Residency, the [Medicine Pediatrics] Residency, and [Tulane School of Medicine.]”

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Hamm or Wiese has been named in a discrimination lawsuit. In 2019, Lesley Saketkoo, a professor and physician with Tulane School of Medicine, sued the school, Hamm, and Joseph Lasky, her supervisor, over the decision not to renew her contract.

The lawsuit accused Lasky of abusive conduct, including calling another female researcher a “bitch,” and undermining Saketkoo’s research funding. Saketkoo brought the complaints to Hamm, the lawsuit said, who declined to investigate, while assuring Saketkoo otherwise.

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk ruled in Tulane’s favor on Dec. 31, on the basis that Saketkoo’s legal team had not shown that a similarly positioned male colleague had been retained in his role. An appeal brief in that case is due in March.

And in February 2020, a resident with the Medicine Pediatrics program, Ocheowelle Okeke, filed a lawsuit against the Tulane School of Medicine and Wiese, alleging that she and other Black residents were given more difficult work assignments relative to white colleagues, and that she was “chastised as not being a team-player.”

The suit refers to Dennar’s allegations specifically, saying “Dr. Okeke attempted to have Dr. Princess Dennar, … intervene and oppose Dr. Wiese and Tulane’s discrimination against herself and other minority [Medicine Pediatrics] residents.”