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Dameron sued for discrimination

Black physician cites racial bias in federal filing

 Dameron Hospital Chief of Medicine Dr. Otashe Golden asked her boss why he was regularly excluding her from meetings and treating her in a demeaning fashion.

His response, according to Golden: "I'll run you out of town. You need to know your place."

Golden's response: "I left the room hysterical that day."

Golden, an experienced hospitalist physician who happens to be a black woman, has filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the 100-year-old Stockton hospital and her boss, Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Arismendi, citing violations of her rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Her lawsuit cites escalating retaliation, intimidation tactics and libelous statements threatening her career, all attributed to Arismendi.

In most hospitals, the chief medical officer is the physician in charge, overseeing the work of other physicians and ensuring the safety and well-being of patients. As a hospitalist, Golden had agreements with 65 community physicians to see their patients at Dameron. She was recruited by Dameron in 2005 to be medical director of its hospitalist program, starting March 2006. By 2008, she was promoted to vice president of medical affairs and chief quality officer, a position she held until April 1.

According to her amended lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Golden is the only black person who has held an executive, C-level position in Dameron's history.

Over the six years of her employment, she came to realize that she had no independent authority or autonomy afforded other C-level executives at Dameron, and that all those other positions were filled by white individuals, according to the suit.

Golden contends in the suit that Arismendi "manipulated" her into creating new corporations, including The California Primary Care Medical Group Inc., with Golden listed as president, "in order to enhance the payor mix of patients receiving care ... with the intent to ensure the financial viability of Dameron."

When those physicians departed after just a year, Golden's corporation was responsible for the lines of credit that secured their livelihood. The suit states that no other medical groups contracting with Dameron "where the sole shareholder or majority shareholder was African American" were subject to the same demands. The actions by Arismendi and the hospital essentially shifted the risk and accumulated debt to Golden's corporations.

When she complained that she was being treated differently than other hospital executives, the suit states, her involvement as the hospital's chief quality officer was "abruptly decreased" and she was subjected to retaliatory acts such as being excluded from meetings and isolated from other executives "without explanation."

In meetings that she did attend, the suit states, "Arismendi yelled at and belittled Golden."

Following an August 2011 meeting between Arismendi, Golden and Gregory Finch, her Sacramento attorney, the suit claims that retaliation stepped up to include Arismendi:

» Asking the staff to monitor Golden's comings and goings in the hospital.

» Advising C-level management to avoid direct contact with her.

» Canceling meetings without informing Golden.

» Providing "bad references" on Golden to the hospital's board, professional medical groups vendors and others.

» Making libelous statements regarding Golden to the IRS and others regarding her business practices.

One month later, according to the suit, all contracts between Golden and the hospital were canceled and Arismendi attempted to have all insurance payments due Golden's hospitalist practice redirected to Dameron.

"Arismendi made clear his intention to make it impossible for Golden to practice at Dameron," the suit states.

Golden contends that she has maintained her professionalism and there have been no quality complaints against her or her medical group. A search of records with the Medical Board of California confirms this claim.

Dameron spokesman Creighton Younnel, before referring all comments to Sacramento attorney Jeff Owensby, sent an email to The Record calling Golden's action a "very baseless lawsuit." Owensby said responses to the lawsuit would come out in motions expected to be filed by May 4.

Finch said all Golden wants is "to get past this and practice good medicine." Golden said she wants to remain living and working as a physician in Stockton. "We live here. This is my home," she said.

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