Sutter Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group Race Discrimination Lawsuit

Case Update (March 28, 2022)

Dr. Nyong’o recently published an article titled Patching for Amblyopia: A Novel Occlusion Dose Monitor for Glasses Wearers to Track Adherence, Journal of Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility (Feb. 1, 2022). This article was the culmination of eight years of fundraising and research. In the article, Dr. Nyong’o described a research study for a patching system device he co-invented to elevate care for children with lazy eye—the novel occlusion dose monitor device, or “Nyong’o device.”  Because lazy eye (or amblyopia) is the leading cause of vision loss in children and young adults, this invention and research are of critical importance.

Following Dr. Nyong’o’s appointment to the Bay Area Council of the National Medical Fellowship (“NMF”), NMF received a $12 million gift to accelerate its work developing diverse leaders committed to dismantling systemic and structural racism in health care. This $12 million grant is the largest in NMF’s history.

Case Update (March 22, 2022)

On March 21, 2022, plaintiff Dr. Omondi Nyong’o filed a new motion detailing the latest discovery dispute and alleging more on-going discrimination and retaliation against him. The motion is pending.

Case Update (March 15, 2022)

While the case is still in the investigative discovery phase, we are pleased to report two victories by the plaintiff as part of that ongoing work.

First, the Court rejected defendant Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group’s attempt to subpoena medical and mental health records that had nothing to do with Dr. Nyong’o’s claims. The Court saw through what plaintiff viewed as an abusive discovery attempt, limited the related subpoenas, and instituted a “first look” procedure requiring that all medical and mental health records be produced directly to plaintiff’s counsel for proper determination of what can and should be disclosed to the defendants. Stated another way, the order fully protects Dr. Nyong’o from PAFMG’s attempts to invade his privacy rights.

Second, the Court rejected defendants’ motion to compel Dr. Nyong’o to sit for a multiday deposition on non-consecutive days, creating inconvenience and disruption to his medical work. The Court ordered that Dr. Nyong’o’s deposition will only proceed on consecutive and mutually convenient days, thus confirming Dr. Nyong’o’s right to control the timing of his deposition.

Currently, Dr. Nyong’o and his counsel are fighting to litigate his claims fully, including by deposing defendants’ representatives and demanding complete production of documents.

Case Update (January 31, 2022)

This case is now in a phase called “discovery,” where each side investigates the facts on each side. In this phase, Dr, Nyong’o will take depositions of the people responsible for the bias and retaliation he alleged he experienced, and those who witnessed or benefitted from it.

This follows months of time-consuming and costly attempts by defendants Sutter, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), and Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group (PAFMG) to try to get Dr. Nyong’o’s case removed from state court in San Francisco. All of these attempts were unsuccessful.

Most recently, on January 31, 2022 , the San Francisco County Superior Court rejected the latest maneuver, by PAFMG, to try to transfer the lawsuit out of San Francisco and its baseless request to have the Court “sanction” Dr. Nyong’o over $12,000 for filing is complaint there. The Court rejected PAFMG’s motion, agreeing that Dr. Nyong’o could bring his case in San Francisco Superior. The order may be read here.

This follows an earlier attempt by defendants Sutter and PAMF to try to remove the case to federal court, which the federal court rejected and remanded back to state court on October 13, 2021 after Dr. Nyong’o was required to file an opposition to the removal.

Earlier in the Case

Lieff Cabraser represents Dr. Omondi Nyong’o in a race discrimination lawsuit against Sutter Health, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group (collectively “Sutter”) for multiple violations of California law arising from a racially toxic workplace. Dr. Nyong’o is a nationally and internationally recognized Black surgeon who has been employed by Sutter for over 12 years. Dr. Nyong’o is Board-certified in Ophthalmology, was the inaugural recipient of the Jamplis Community Service Award for Sutter Health, and was selected as one of only 12 national pediatric surgical ophthalmologists to serve on the American Orthoptic Council. He has provided outstanding care to thousands of children in Silicon Valley, and has received teaching awards, quality of care awards, and other awards at Sutter, universities, and other non-profit organizations. He was the first and only Black physician to chair any department within the Palo Alto Medical Foundation region of Sutter Health, ever. Due to his commitment to providing medical services to those most in need, he has been a leader in Sutter’s philanthropic efforts, currently serving as a Medical Director of Philanthropy for the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group.

Dr. Omondi Nyong'o
Dr. Omondi Nyong’o

Dr. Nyong’o recently published an article titled Patching for Amblyopia: A Novel Occlusion Dose Monitor for Glasses Wearers to Track Adherence, Journal of Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility (Feb. 1, 2022). This article was the culmination of eight years of fundraising and research. In the article, Dr. Nyong’o described a research study for a patching system device he co-invented to elevate care for children with lazy eye—the novel occlusion dose monitor device, or “Nyong’o device.” Because lazy eye (or amblyopia) is the leading cause of vision loss in children and young adults, this invention and research are of critical importance.

Following Dr. Nyong’o’s appointment to the Bay Area Council of the National Medical Fellowship (“NMF”), NMF received a $12 million gift to accelerate its work developing diverse leaders committed to dismantling systemic and structural racism in health care. This $12 million grant is the largest in NMF’s history.

As alleged in the complaint in the lawsuit, despite his impeccable qualifications and years of dedicated service, Dr. Nyong’o has been subject to a pattern of racial discrimination, including pay and promotion discrimination, down-leveling, biased reviews, heightened scrutiny and racial harassment, different standards of behavior, and unfair discipline. As the complaint further alleges, notwithstanding Sutter’s willingness to exploit Dr. Nyong’o’s considerable medical skills, patient service, and contributions to the Sutter community in order to advance its own corporate reputation in the areas of philanthropy and diversity and inclusion, Sutter has subjected Dr. Nyong’o to racial trauma arising from racist and discriminatory employment decisions against Dr. Nyong’o and due to a workplace culture which generally disrespects, undermines, and disciplines African American staff and doctors, including Dr. Nyong’o, due to racial bias.

The complaint further notes that the racist environment that permeates Sutter also “limits opportunities for other Black doctors, impairs their ability to achieve their potential professionally and financially, and subjects them to racial trauma at work. Dr. Nyong’o’s Black colleagues have worked extraordinarily hard over the course of their medical careers only to find their accomplishments are devalued and there is a glass ceiling for Black doctors at Sutter. The Black doctors at Sutter support one another, but remain demoralized by the lack of respect, heightened scrutiny, and toxicity directed at them by Sutter leadership.” As detailed in the complaint, “In order to survive at Sutter, Black doctors report that they are advised to keep their head down and remain unseen.”

Dr. Nyong’o’s complaint alleges violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Gov’t Code section 12940, et seq. (“FEHA”); the California Fair Pay Act, Cal. Lab. Code section 1197.5, et seq., (“CFPA”); California Health and Safety Code section 1278.5(b); the California Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code section 17200, et seq.; breach of contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and monetary relief.

CONTACT US

If you are a past or current physician at Sutter and have experienced discrimination, we urge you to contact an employment lawyer at Lieff Cabraser today using the form on this page. There is no cost or obligation for our review of your case, and the information you provide will be held in the strictest confidence. You may also call us toll-free at 1 800 541-7358 and ask to speak to Lieff Cabraser attorney Kelly M. Dermody.

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