Jan 18, 2024

Former Keck resident sues USC, UCLA, LA County for discrimination

A former Keck School of Medicine resident filed a lawsuit Thursday against the school, UCLA Health and Los Angeles County alleging she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and disability. The suit further alleges that one of her supervisors carried a gun while at work. She also sued for retaliation, defamation and "failure to engage in the interactive process."

Dr. Melani Cargle attended medical school at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine from August 2015 to June 2020 and was diagnosed with ADHD during her first year by a psychiatrist at UCLA.

After graduating, she was admitted to the Keck School of Medicine's orthopedic surgery residency program. The suit alleges that, in the USC program, Cargle endured discrimination on the basis of her ADHD, saying that the hand surgery program's chief resident yelled at her and called her names, including "stupid," "useless" and "idiot."

Cargle's suit also stated that she was denied an accommodation request during a meeting with her supervisors at the Keck program. While she had asked to chart in a way that was better for her and her disability, the supervisors refused and insisted that she chart only in the way that they had asked her to, the suit alleges.

Earlier, in July 2019, Cargle was in an orthopedic surgery rotation at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. The lawsuit alleges that during this rotation, a supervisor made "extremely inappropriate sexist and sexual comments" toward her and others on the surgical team while in surgery.

The suit also states that the supervisor also made homophobic and racist remarks toward some patients, residents and students over the course of her time at the medical center, using anti-gay and anti-Black slurs.

The suit alleges that the supervisor carried a firearm around the medical center, including when rounding on patients and in the operating room. When he was rounding on patients the firearm was visible, according to the suit, but concealed in all other areas of the medical center. In the operating room, the suit alleges the supervisor kept the firearm in a fanny pack. It also alleges that, when Cargle had asked what was in the fanny pack, he mocked her and made a gesture to imply that it was his penis, not a firearm.

Despite hospital management saying that Cargle's complaints would be looked into, the lawsuit states that she never received any follow-up calls or emails and that the hospital has not taken any action regarding the supervisor since. As of the time this article is published, he is still employed at the medical center.

The suit says that Cargle would post on Twitter and other social media platforms to vent about the lack of support from her programs. A TikTok video by @mel.on.medicine shows Cargle had once tweeted alleging that her supervisor assaulted a Black patient while he was under anesthesia. The tweet, as well as others including some about her employment status, have since been removed from her Twitter account.

In May 2022, a letter from the L.A. County Department of Human Resources informed Cargle that she was no longer able to file claims against her supervisor at UCLA, according to the lawsuit. A week later, Cargle received a notice of intent to terminate from the program she was in at the time.

The suit alleges Cargle found out from her peers that L.A. County sent an email the next month personally attacking her and denying all of her allegations. The email, which stated her full name, was also posted on various official social media pages, including one for the medical center at which she had worked. The suit says the issue gained national attention and even led to articles being published, one of which claimed she made up the entire story. The suit argues this negative attention damaged Cargle's reputation.

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, USC denied the veracity of Cargle's claims and said it is committed to treating all students with respect.

"As it did with Dr. Cargle, USC takes great care to provide all of its medical trainees with a professional and welcoming educational experience that is free from discrimination, harassment or retaliation," the University wrote. "Her claims against USC lack merit, and we look forward to addressing them in court."

Neither UCLA Health nor Cargle's attorneys responded to the Daily Trojan's requests for comment in time for publication.

Cargle is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of unspecified amounts, according to the suit. No future hearings have been scheduled at this time.