Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DeCambre v. Rady Children's Hospital (Cal. Ct. App. - March 11, 2015)

I wonder if you get a slightly different perspective on cases that (1) come from your home town, and (2) involve hospitals.

Dr. Marvalyn DeCambre is a pediatric urologist at Children's Hospital in San Diego.  She's an African-American woman, and says that she was discriminated against from the outset of her employment.  She was ultimately (effectively) fired, and she sued.

People might have different perspectives on how plausible it is that a hospital would discriminate against someone in such a setting.   But one thing is fairly clear:  the nurses at Children's Hospital didn't like how Dr. DeCambre treated them, and neither did patients, since Dr. DeCambre "received five times as many complaints as the next most complained about physician" at Children's.

Children's Hospital says that's why it fired her.  The trial court agreed.

The Court of Appeal reverses in part.

Perhaps because the events at issue arise from a nearby hospital (indeed, one my family has used), as I read the opinion, it highlighted for me that one of the potential downsides of inaptly applied laws that (rightly) protect minorities is that in particular cases, you might impose ancillary costs not only on the underlying business, but also on the affected community.  My bet is that the staff and patients who were forced to endure "DeCambre's disrespectful and insensitive behavior" were likely pretty happy to see her go.  My money's also on the fact that Children's Hospital likely had to feel like it had a pretty strong case before firing her,

You may be a little bit worried that antidiscrimination laws might encourage employers to retain some subpar employees for fear of a lawsuit.  But you're a lot more worried, I think, when those employers are, say, the doctors of your children.

The relevant laws don't vary depending on the potentially countervailing social interests at stake.  I wonder if they should.

(Of course, there are countervailing interests on the other side as well; you don't want a hospital, for example, firing more effective doctors merely because they're minorities.  But I nonetheless wonder if the practical realities of the modern era -- at least in certain areas and professions -- don't risk one of these dangers more than the other.)