Neurosurgery resident claims gender bias in Augusta University suit

The Augusta University Medical Center serves the state of Georgia and is the primary teaching and patient care site for the Department of Surgery. PHOTO CREDIT: AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY.

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The Augusta University Medical Center serves the state of Georgia and is the primary teaching and patient care site for the Department of Surgery. PHOTO CREDIT: AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY.

A former participant in Augusta University’s neurosurgery residency program has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the school and state officials, saying she was singled out to take multiple, random drug tests and eventually forced from the program because she is a woman.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court by Sarah Kavianpour, says the drug tests violated state and federal policy. Kavianpour said she was the only woman in the seven-member program and the male participants weren’t tested.

“Defendants’ actions have caused, continue to cause and will cause Dr. Kavianpour to suffer damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-pecuniary losses,” Kavianpour’s attorneys, John Batson and Edward Buckley, wrote in their complaint.

Calls to her attorneys weren’t returned Monday.

The Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees operations at the university and is named in the lawsuit, declined comment Monday. The board does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Lance Wallace.

Educators have been under pressure in recent years to enroll more women in science-related programs on all levels in higher education. Discrimination still persists, some research shows. A survey published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine found about 20% of female surgical residents reported sexual harassment and 65% reported gender discrimination.

Kavianpour, originally from South Carolina, joined the program in July 2018. A month later, Kavianpour said she was called into a meeting to discuss a rumor that she was using marijuana for stress reduction. Kavianpour said she had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was receiving treatment. Program officials said they did not believe that Kavianpour was using marijuana, but encouraged her to follow advice from one administrator on how to deal with the situation.

Kavianpour says in her complaint that she was asked to take eight drug tests between September 2018 and February 2019. One test was ordered during a sick day. Kavianpour said she was ordered to retake another test because the results were “dilute.” Kavianpour said she has a chronic kidney disease and her doctor had given her written instructions to drink three liters of water daily.

University administrators told Kavianpour in February that they planned to remove her from the program after she said she was unable to take a test, the lawsuit says. She said she fought the decision and filed a discrimination complaint in July with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Kavianpour said none of the tests showed drugs in her system. She said program administrators made false claims, including saying she was on a random drug testing program as a condition of her employment. The lawsuit says one official, John Lott, recognized the university’s “unlawful actions” but was removed from his position by other officials who are defendants in the case.

Kavianpour said she contacted University System of Georgia officials, who visited the campus just before Thanksgiving to investigate her complaint.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

“Had Plaintiff not been terminated before the end of her first postgraduate year of medical training, she would have been eligible for her own medical license, which would have enabled her to work independently as an employed or contracted physician,” the complaint says. “Because of the actions of the Defendants, Plaintiff is unable to work as a physician.”