Appeals Court asks judge to take second look at discrimination complaint against Kadlec

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldOctober 29, 2012 

A state appeals court is asking a Benton County judge to take a second look at claims by a cardiologist that Kadlec Regional Medical Center retaliated against him for discrimination complaints.

In an opinion filed last week, the Division III Court of Appeals ruled that Dr. Venkataraman Sambasivan's retaliation claim should not have been dismissed because enough factual questions existed for the issue to go to trial.

Kadlec and Sambasivan declined to talk about the decision because the case still is being litigated.

Sambasivan, a native of India, filed a lawsuit against the Richland hospital -- then known as Kadlec Medical Center -- in June 2008, alleging that the hospital had discriminated against him because of his nationality.

Sambasivan's complaints stemmed from not being paid the same way as other interventional cardiologists on an emergency call list from 2005-06, court documents said.

Interventional cardiology is a branch of the specialty involving catheter-based treatments of structural heart diseases, such as angioplasty to treat coronary artery disease, according to the American Board of Internal Medicine, which certifies doctors in the field.

Court documents said Sambasivan had been taken off the emergency call list for interventional cardiologists in 2004 while he undertook training. He was restored to the call list in July 2005, and in the meantime the hospital instituted a policy of paying cardiologists on the list $1,000 per day for each day of call service, with the exception of two days per month that each doctor agreed to be on call without being paid.

But Sambasivan wasn't paid the $1,000 a day that other doctors received, court documents said. In 2007, he negotiated an agreement with the hospital to be paid for call service.

Then in 2008 his privileges came up for review. Kadlec hired an outside doctor to review the cases of the four interventional cardiologists on the list, and Sambasivan started to believe he was being treated differently than the other three doctors, documents said.

He filed his discrimination claim, and at the same August 2008 board meeting when the Kadlec board learned about the lawsuit, they adopted new requirements that interventional cardiologists perform 150 procedures every two years to keep their privileges, and applied them retroactively to the four doctors on the emergency call list.

Sambasivan was the only one of the four who did not qualify under the new standards, and the hospital revoked his interventional cardiology privileges, court documents said.

He remains able to practice non-interventional cardiology at Kadlec, documents said.

Sambasivan claimed that the change in standards resulting in his loss of privileges was retaliation for his discrimination claim. Benton County Superior Court Judge Robert Swisher dismissed the case on the grounds that Sambasivan had failed to establish a causal link between his lawsuit and the board's decision.

Kadlec argued that the change in standards would improve patient safety, but Sambasivan argued that was a pretext and that Kadlec could have phased in the new requirements and not applied them retroactively.

But the appeals court found that enough evidence existed to support Sambasivan's allegation that Swisher should have allowed the case to go to trial.

"Viewing these facts in a light most favorable to the doctor, they establish a prima facie case of retaliation -- because the doctor filed a discrimination lawsuit, the hospital revoked his privileges," the court said.

The case is being remanded to Benton County for trial.

-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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