A gay surgical resident at The Brooklyn Hospital Center is suing the hospital, claiming that he was harassed and discriminated against by his supervisors.
Dr. Chad Jensen claims that one supervisor referred to him as a member of the ATM or “ass to mouth crew,” and others made vulgar jokes at his expense once they found out he was gay.
Jensen claims in his lawsuit, first filed in 2018, that Dr. Armand Asarian, the surgical residency program director, and Dr. Sandeep Sirsi, the associate director, “regularly made hateful, anti-gay comments about their gay patients and unscientific judgments that these patients’ own ‘lifestyle’ caused their illnesses.”
Jensen, 32, who is from California, claims he did not expect to find that kind of discrimination prevalent in New York, where he moved in June 2017 for a one-year residency. During that same time, Jensen also came out as gay.
“It just reinforced all of those fears, essentially putting me back into those 29 years that I was living in fear, feeling like I couldn’t be myself,” Jensen told The New York Post.
He left the residency program before his year was up. He is currently in the midst of a four-year residency at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx.
Jensen’s lawsuit alleges that the anti-gay attitudes at the hospital went far beyond Sirsi and Asarian, with several of the other supervisors also taking part in the harassment.
For starters, while Jensen tried to keep his sexual orientation private, Sirsi and other residents eventually found out and began demeaning him because he was gay. Jensen claims Sirsi stopped scheduling Jensen in his clinics, avoided interacting with him, and refused to make eye contact when they did interact.
According to the lawsuit, at one point, Jensen contracted strep throat, and upon returning to work he claims that Sirsi and one of the chief residents repeatedly asked Jensen how his “gonoherpesyphilis” was — a joke meant to humiliate Jensen by implying he was sexually promiscuous and had gonorrhea, herpes, and syphilis.
Another time, Jensen was putting a central line in the jugular vein of a patient in the ICU who had HIV when the same chief resident interrupted to say, “Make sure you don’t prick yourself! Actually it doesn’t matter, you share the same illness,” implying Jensen — and all gay men, by extension — have HIV or AIDS.
Jensen’s supervisors and colleagues also allegedly made vulgar comments and spread false rumors in the presence of others that Jensen and a fellow resident, who is straight, were having a sexual relationship.
Another resident allegedly threatened to physically harm Jensen and screamed at him in front of other doctors. That resident then sent Jensen text messages demonstrating anti-gay bias, telling Jensen to “act like a man” and claiming that Asarian “stands for the same principles I do.” Jensen then received copies of text messages in which the resident told other doctors, “The ass-to-mouth crew will pay eventually. Death before dishonor.”
When Jensen notified his superiors of his intent to leave the residency program, due, in part, to the discrimination he faced, Asarian retaliated against him by allegedly forwarding an email to Dr. Daniel Ricciardi, the dean of St. George’s School of Medicine, where Jensen went to medical school.
Jensen alleges that Ricciardi called him and threatened his future employment, stating: “You know, I have a lot of contacts at Lincoln,” which had already accepted Jensen into its residency program.
A spokesperson for St. George’s School of Medicine was not immediately available for comment.
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Despite filing complaints about his superiors with management, The Brooklyn Hospital Center only launched an investigation after Jensen left, later determining that Jensen “had been harassed because of his sexual orientation,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims Sirsi was forced to resign from his position and Asarian was removed as the director of the surgical residency program.
Jensen also claims that because he was forced to prematurely resign from his residency at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, he did not receive credit for his work there. As a result, he lost about $3,000 in income each year through 2021 because he had to start at the base salary for a first-year resident rather than at the salary for a second-year resident.
Jensen is seeking unspecified damages for the harassment he faced, claiming that the treatment he was subjected to violates both New York City and New York State’s nondiscrimination laws. He is also demanding that The Brooklyn Hospital Center be required to provide anti-bias training to all its employees.
The Brooklyn Hospital Center, which is part of the Mount Sinai hospital network, told the Post in a statement that it is “committed to a healthy and inclusive work environment,” adding that it intends to “vigorously” defend itself from the accusations levied against it.
Lawyers for the defendants, including the hospital, have filed responses with the court contesting all of the allegations set forth in Jensen’s lawsuit.
Jensen told the Post that he filed the lawsuit because he felt like he had no voice, and wanted to expose the toxic culture of homophobia that he experienced at the hospital.
“It made me think of all the other people in this country that are also gay and feel like they have nowhere to go and it leads them down dark paths,” he said. “So me coming forward, I wanted to let people know that they’re not alone.”
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