Former professor sues GW Hospital, MFA for alleged forced resignation

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A former professor of oncology is suing GW Hospital and the Medical Faculty Associates for alleged wrongful termination. Hatchet file photo

A former assistant professor of radiation oncology at the GW Medical Faculty Associates is suing MFA and the GW Hospital for allegedly forcing her to resign from her job.

Ashima Saini worked for MFA from August 2008 to July 2016, according to the complaint. She claims that she was harassed and bullied by fellow employees at MFA and was eventually coerced into resigning.

Saini requests $12 million for damages, according to the document. She is suing for breach of contract, lack of due process, tortious interference, wrongful termination, unlawful discrimination and harassment and bullying.

She filed the complaint in the D.C. Superior Court on Nov. 30.

Saini declined to comment on the suit.

Saini’s resignation letter was a “forced signature based on lies,” according to the complaint.

“The plaintiff withdraws her letter of resignation as it was done under major duress and repeated threats,” according to the document.

Saini’s next opportunity for a new position appointment was in July 2016, the same month the forced resignation allegedly took place, according to the document. Her employment contract required that MFA give her a year’s notice if the organization chose not to renew the contract without cause, according to the complaint.

She claims in the document that the University, GW Hospital and the hospital’s overarching hospital group, Universal Health Services, owe her money for “slander, personal humiliation and suffering,” according to the complaint.

Mia Meloni, the associate general counsel for Universal Health Services, denied Saini’s allegations and declined to comment further on the case.

“Although we are unable to comment on pending litigation, we deny Dr. Saini’s contentions and intend to vigorously defend the claims,” Meloni said in an email.

The document lists several MFA employees who Saini claims made her a “target” of harassment and bullying: Martin Ojong Ntui, Rana Kianni, Hamid Aghdam, Emebet Sileshi and Howard Griffith. These were listed as employees in the complaint, but were not in GW’s directory. They could not be reached for comment.

“These employees initiated a systematic campaign of collusion with psychological assaults, daily slanderous comments and major attempts at work interference,” according to the complaint. “The allegations were grossly false, with reckless disregard for the truth and with intent to harm.”

The suit also alleges “repetitive and targeted” discrimination based on race and gender. Saini was the only person in the department who received a performance review, according to the document.

Saini reported that fellow employees created a hostile work environment, but that it did not interfere with her ability to perform professionally. There were complaints made about these people in 2010 and 2015, but hospital administrators did not police the “unacceptable practices,” according to the complaint.

“This harassment was not some hidden and stealth activity, but openly conducted with active recruitment attempts of all members of the departmental staff,” Saini wrote.

Saini alleged in the suit that she had a “pristine employment record” and had not received any negative evaluations or received any complaints for roughly the first seven years of her employment at GW until June 2015.

The organization did not follow proper protocol or give Saini due process for responding to complaints against her by other employees at MFA, according to the complaint. She originally responded to the complaints on Aug. 22, 2015 and called the complaints lies, but administrators did not respond to her or give her an opportunity to defend herself, according to the suit.

Saini claims she was “ambushed” by three administrators in MFA: Robert Zeman, MFA’s chairman of radiology, Rodney Whitmore, the chief human resources officer, and Deborah Garibay, MFA’s legal counsel, who allegedly forced Saini to sign the resignation letter.

The administrators threatened her and said she would lose her medical career and license if she did not sign, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Garibay “stated many times that she had no choice” but to sign the letter. Saini repeatedly requested more details about the cause stated in the resignation letter during the meeting. She asked for proof of the resignation cause and offered witnesses who would refute the resignation cause, but she was told “they are satisfied” as a response to both, according to the complaint.

Garibay declined to comment on the suit, saying that she cannot comment on “threatened litigation.” She added that MFA denies the allegations that Saini included in the complaint.

Saini said she was not allowed to leave the room, get out of her chair or call a lawyer or her husband while she decided whether to sign the paper, according to the complaint. She was allegedly told that she would be fired immediately if she made a call.

Saini was not asked to meet with the governing bodies of MFA, including Gary Little, the chief of staff and MFA’s medical director, Barry Wolfman, the CEO of the hospital, and Roy Santarella, the CEO of MFA, around the time she stopped working at GW, according to the complaint.

In the complaint, Saini calls for an independent review of the hospital by the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation.

Celine Castronuovo contributed reporting.

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