Former Resident Sues UCMC for Discrimination and Retaliation

The jury trial for the case began on January 31.

By Anne Nazzaro

A former University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) resident is suing UCMC for discrimination based on national origin and retaliation. The jury trial for the suit began on January 31. 

 Dr. Maria Artunduaga was a resident physician in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery program from June 2011 to June 2012. She alleges that she was discriminated against during her residency due to her Colombian origin, and that UCMC let her go in retaliation for her attempts to end the discriminatory treatment. 

 Artunduaga originally filed in October 2012 against UCMC for discrimination, the creation of a “hostile work environment,” and defamation. The claims of defamation were dismissed in 2013, though the court found that the evidence presented as defamatory could still be used in a discrimination suit against UCMC. The current allegations are only against UCMC and are for discrimination based on national origin and retaliation. 

 Artunduaga was born and raised in Colombia, and graduated from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, a Colombian medical school, in 2003. After practicing medicine for three years in Colombia, Artunduaga went on to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University in 2011. Following her fellowship, she was accepted into UCMC’s plastics residency program, which is meant to last for six years. 

 In the original complaint, Artunduaga alleged that, on the basis of her Colombian heritage, she was assigned fewer surgical cases than her co-residents who were not Colombian, that she was consistently assigned undesirable clinics that her co-residents did not want to attend, and that she was excluded from academic activities and social events. She also alleges that she was often ridiculed and sidelined for her accented English by both co-residents and superiors. 

 In November 2011, Artunduaga was placed on probation in the plastics program. In March 2012, she received notice that UCMC had decided to let her one-year residency contract expire in June, rather than renew it and have her continue the program. According to a letter given to the plaintiff by her supervisor, this decision was a result of her lack of “many of the basic skills expected of a resident at [her] level of training,” a point which Artunduaga contests. 

 Artunduaga claims that she complained multiple times about the alleged discriminatory treatment to UCMC before she was told that her contract wouldn’t be renewed, but that UCMC took no action to correct the problem. UCMC denies the allegations of discrimination and further claims that Artunduaga did not complain of the discrimination until after she had received notice that the University was not going to renew her contract. 

 Artunduaga is suing UCMC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, religion, nation of origin, and other factors.  

Since leaving UCMC, Artunduaga has completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Washington and has entered a dual master’s program in translational medicine at University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. 

Lorna S. Wong, the news representative for UCMC, stated that because the case is currently being tried, the medical center will not comment on the case outside of court proceedings. “The medical center continues to deny the claims Artunduaga has made in this lawsuit,” she said. 

Jamie S. Franklin, one of Artunduaga’s lawyers, also said that she cannot comment on the case outside of court, but that the trial will continue at least until late next week.