Former GW Hospital resident with cancer sues GW for discrimination

Updated: Sept. 1, 2016 at 10:48 a.m.

A former GW Hospital resident is suing the University for discriminating and retaliating against her and eventually firing her because she has cancer.

Stephanie Waggel, a psychiatric doctor who was in GW’s residency program, is suing the University for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the local and federal Family and Medical Leave Acts and the D.C. Human Rights Act.

The complaint does not list a total amount of monetary damages, but demands that GW “cease its illegal personnel practices,” reinstate her into the third year of her program, pay at least $300,000 in compensatory damages and cover the costs from the suit, according to the complaint.

Waggel has kidney cancer and underwent treatment last spring while she was working at the hospital. She received approved medical leave to attend appointments and recover from surgeries, but alleges that her supervisors did not adequately accommodate her disability and retaliated against her for attempting to take time off for treatment, according to the complaint.

“As a direct and proximate result of said intentional acts, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer loss of employment, loss of income, loss of other employment benefits, and has suffered and continues to suffer extreme emotional distress, humiliation, great expense, embarrassment and damage to her reputation,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that GW wrongfully denied her promotion in the program before eventually firing her in May.

Waggel responded to the Hatchet’s request for comment, but said she did not have any additional information.

Anne Banner, a School of Medicine and Health Sciences spokeswoman, said in an email that “Dr. Waggel’s account of her dismissal from the psychiatry residency program reflects only her allegations” and that the University denies the allegations.

“The University will defend the integrity of our medical education program in the appropriate forum,” Banner said.

She added that the residency program has measures in place to assist students with health conditions.

Waggel filed suit in the U.S. District Court in D.C. July 7. Her lawyer, Jason Ehrenberg, did not return a request for comment.

Waggel began her residency at GW Hospital in July 2014. The next spring, she underwent treatment for a malignant kidney mass and told her managers about the illness, according to the complaint. She also requested and received permission to attend medical appointments from the head of the program, Lisa Catapano. Catapano did not return a request for comment.

Waggel was in the emergency room last June when she looked for another employee to cover her shift so she could attend a medical appointment. She felt ill and informed fellow staff members, but she was unable to find someone to replace her, according to the complaint.

Waggel received a “letter of deficiency” in July 2015, claiming she didn’t answer phone calls during her June shift, according to the complaint. When Waggel attempted to meet with Allen Dyer, an attending physician assigned to work with Waggel, to rectify the situation the letter referred to, Dyer was not available until September, the complaint alleges.

Waggel received a second letter of deficiency in October 2015. When she asked why she was issued the letter, Catapano allegedly told Waggel she knew the details from a prior meeting, which Waggel said never took place, according to the complaint.

Waggel took two days of approved sick leave that October for medical testing, but was told two days later that because she had taken those days off that she would have to repeat her rotation, according to the complaint.

In November 2015, Catapano allegedly called Waggel to tell her she must begin a forced administrative leave, but did not say why or when the leave period would end, according to the complaint.

Waggel received a third letter of deficiency the day after her call with Catapano, according to the lawsuit. The letter stated that Waggel had failed to meet with Dyer, even though she allegedly attempted to meet several times and had met with him two months earlier, according to the complaint. The letter also allegedly said Waggel was not on track to move onto the residency program’s third year.

Later that month, Waggel met with Jeffrey Berger, the associate dean for medical education, about returning from the forced leave and not moving forward in the program, according to the complaint. Berger allegedly told her to meet with another attending physician instead of Dyer, and also said that Waggel was failing two of her classes because of the approved time off she had taken.

“Once again, rather than accommodate Plaintiff and/or engage in the required interactive process, GW chose to take adverse employment actions and otherwise discriminate against Plaintiff,” according to the document.

Waggel received a fourth letter of deficiency in December 2015 informing her that she had failed two courses and that she would not be move onto the third year of the program, according to the complaint.

She appealed the decision of not being promoted to the program’s third year and attempted to reach another attending physician to resolve the deficiencies laid out in each of the letters. When she contacted the doctor, she was referred to another attending physician, “Dr. Gandhi,” who allegedly refused to meet with her, according to the document.

The complaint alleges that when another resident told Waggel that she had been removed her from call schedules last December, Waggel had a panic attack that led her to admit herself to the emergency room.

Waggel learned that she would receive a letter of misconduct in February after she allegedly did not address the previous letters of deficiency. The complaint alleges that she attempted to address the letters with her superiors and explain that the letters were undeserved, but the hospital staff did not respond to her meeting requests.

Later that month, Waggel’s appeal was officially denied, according to the complaint. Waggel filed another appeal, which was later granted, according to the complaint.

Waggel applied for and was granted additional FMLA leave in March and applied to transfer out of GW’s residency program into other programs, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that GW did not provide the information and documents Waggel needed to transfer, meaning she was not able to transfer into another program this residency year.

Catapano dismissed Waggel from the residency program in May. Waggel appealed her dismissal, according to the complaint.

This post was updated to include a comment from a University spokeswoman.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.