BURLINGTON — Three former medical residents, who say they were subjected to countless instances of harassment and discrimination because of ethnicity, race and religion, have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and the head of its podiatry residency program, court records show.
Named as defendants are Dr. William Sarchino, both as an individual and for his official duties, along with the medical center in Bennington and Southwestern Vermont Health Care.
Shazad Buksh, Krishna Gathani and Gon Saman filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Burlington for conduct that ended in spring 2020 when their residencies concluded. They each say they have been forced to leave the Northeast because of the influence Sarchino holds within the profession.
Sarchino, who has offices in Bennington and Greenwich, N.Y., said in a phone call Thursday he wanted to confer with his lawyer before responding to the allegations. Attempts to reach him Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Thomas Dee, SVMC president and CEO, offered a general rejection of the claims against the hospital.
“Southwestern Vermont Health Care strongly denies the allegations brought forth by former podiatry residents and has retained counsel to vigorously contest them,” he said in a statement issued through the hospital. “Southwestern Vermont Health Care is committed to a diverse, equitable, inclusive, innovative, and mutually respectful workforce culture.”
The defendants are expected to file formal written responses to the lawsuit later this month.
Dee’s written statement did not address individual allegations against him and his co-workers in the 19-page lawsuit.
While not named as defendants, at least seven top Southwestern hospital leaders, including Dee; Kevin Dailey, the vice president of human resources; Mitch Baroody, chief compliance officer; James Poole, assistant director of the podiatry residency program; and Dr. Trey Dobson, SVMC’s chief medical officer, were mentioned by name for their inaction or conduct, court papers show.
Buksh, Gathani and Saman were podiatry residents at the hospital and were subjected to a hostile work environment, retaliatory employment actions, a failure to protect whistleblowers, breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence, the lawsuit claims.
It also says a complaint was filed with SVMC and Baroody in January 2020 “regarding allegations of fraud, theft, abuse of power, discrimination, violating IRS nonprofit laws, HIPAA violations, OSHA violations intimidation and ethics violations.”
Sarchino routinely referred to the three plaintiffs as “you people,” and “your kind,” and said, “brown people are lazy, unmotivated, disrespectful and insubordinate,” the lawsuit said. It added that Sarchino told Gathani he looked like a “terrorist” because of his beard and race. The lawsuit maintains Sarchino routinely called Bukah “old man” and mocked his mental health.
Brattleboro lawyer Evan Chadwick, who represents the three plaintiffs, said they are all U.S. citizens and have Middle East roots.
While each plaintiff has six identical specific claims, Gathani and Saman both added a seventh count of constructive discharge from their residency.
“Residents, including the three plaintiffs, were ordered to take X-rays at Sarchino’s private practice, despite being unlicensed, without appropriate protections like lead vests, and without a proper radiation safety plan,” Chadwick wrote in the complaint.
“Buksh now has bladder cancer which, upon information and belief, is a result of his dangerous radiation exposure,” the lawsuit notes.
Buksh filed a complaint with VOSHA about the unsafe working conditions.
VOSHA ruled against the defendants and demanded that they complete a number of corrections to the working conditions, the lawsuit said. It noted the defendants continued “retaliatory actions and adverse employment decisions after the VOSHA complaints were made,” the lawsuit said.
As their boss, Sarchino told the plaintiffs, “I own you” and “I can work you as much as I want,” the lawsuit said.
It further claims Sarchino used his position as a supervisor, the head of the residency training committee and as a longtime employee at SVMC to defame the plaintiffs to other hospital staff and administration by using false and discriminatory accusations.
Sarchino has an independent, private practice in the region and the Bennington facility has contracted with him to be the director of the podiatry residency program, records show. He also is member of the medical staff at Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a spokeswoman said Friday.
The lawsuit maintains Sarchino ordered residents, including the three plaintiffs, to bring consultation notes from SWMC to his private practice so patients were billed under his name for personal compensation.
Sarchino also instructed residents, including the plaintiff, to dictate that he was present for consultations when he was absent, the lawsuit said. It said Sarchino threatened them with termination if they did not follow his orders.
He also ordered plaintiffs to see patients at a local free clinic which Southwestern did not have any affiliation with, along with nursing homes that also were not connected, the lawsuit maintains.
Gathani expressed concern about being directed by Sarchino to provide care at unauthorized facilities to Mary Delany, a residency coordinator for the podiatry program, court papers note. When Delany told Sarchino it would be illegal to send residents to the facilities, Sarchino berated Gathani using the “you people” racial epithet.
Saman said he filed a report with Dailey, as head of human resources and Baroody, the chief compliance officer at SVHC and they agreed to conduct a report, but in the end the complaint was dismissed and no findings were published, the lawsuit said.
Sarchino subsequently would not allow Saman to scrub for podiatry cases, participate in podiatry education and further threatened him with termination, the lawsuit said.
When they complained to Dailey, he told the plaintiffs they were “at will” employees, and if they had complaints about the program, they should resign.
The prepared statement from Dee did include a general endorsement that the hospital is a good place to work.
“We believe that this environment is one of the main reasons why our employees have independently voted us a Best Place to Work in Vermont eight years in a row, and has created an award-winning health systems devoted to providing safe, exceptional care for our region,” the statement said.
The Best Place to Work program is a self-nomination process and overseen by Vermont Business Magazine, Vermont Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Department of Economic Development, Vermont Department of Labor & The Vermont State Council.
Dee concluded his statement by saying that on the advice of their lawyers, the hospital would have no further comments “at this time.”