By DONOVAN HARRELL
The Center for Individual Rights has filed a lawsuit against the University of Pittsburgh on behalf of Norman Wang, an embattled School of Medicine professor who penned a controversial white paper that criticized the effectiveness of affirmative action efforts in the medical field.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said Pitt violated Wang’s First Amendment rights. It’s seeking damages for defamation from Pitt, UPMC, the American Heart Association and several Pitt employees for allegedly claiming Wang misused academic sources.
It also asks for Wang to be fully reinstated to his teaching positions, which he claims he was removed from in retaliation to the paper.
“As a result of defendants’ actions, a cloud also continues to hang over (Wang’s) reputation and, accordingly, his ability to obtain other employment is constrained,” the lawsuit said.
This is the latest in a series of events surrounding Wang’s white paper, originally published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on March 24.
The paper resurfaced in August to heavy criticism from cardiologists, while Pitt administrators distanced themselves from the paper’s claims.
The JAHA redacted the paper that month saying that it did not represent the organization's values. In response to the backlash against the paper, UPMC removed Wang from his position as program director of the UPMC Electrophysiology Fellowship in August.
In October, the Department of Education sent Chancellor Patrick Gallagher a letter alleging that Pitt retaliated against Wang “with a campaign of denunciation and cancellation” for the paper.
The American Association of University Professors also sent a letter to Gallagher, saying it was concerned that the University did not give Wang proper due process before he was removed from his position. Wang had provided the AAUP with emails, some from defendants, sent around the medical school that addressed his case.
A Pitt spokesman responded to the lawsuit today: “We are aware of the complaint and will respond appropriately. The University of Pittsburgh took no action against Dr. Wang, and we remain fully committed to advancing the value of academic freedom.”
In the past, Pitt representatives said that the actions taken against Wang were done by UPMC, which has been a separate legal entity from the University of Pittsburgh since 1998, and not by the University. Many professors in the School of Medicine have dual appointments at UPMC.
In addition to Pitt and UPMC, the lawsuit was filed against Samir Saba, the chief of the Cardiology Division in the school medicine; Mark Gladwin, the chairman of the Department of Medicine; Kathryn Berlacher and Marc Simon, professors in the Cardiology Division in the Department; University of Pittsburgh Physicians, a UPMC-owned group medical practice that employs faculty physicians and the online journal publishing company Wiley Periodicals, Inc. which distributes the JAHA.
The lawsuit also was filed against John Does 1-10, who are “agents of UPSOM, UPP and UPMC, and who acted on their behalf,” according to the lawsuit. Wang does not know the identities of these people.
“The adverse employment actions taken by defendants have had a negative financial impact on (Wang),” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff was paid sums in addition to his base salary to be the director of the fellowship in clinical electrophysiology. Because he was removed from that position, plaintiff is no longer paid those additional sums.”
The Center for Individual Rights is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm that most recently sued the State of Oregon for establishing a coronavirus relief fund designed to benefit financially distressed Black Oregonians, businesses and nonprofits.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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