7th Circuit affirms judgment in favor of IU Health

A former Indiana University Health doctor who sued IU Health North for failing to stop alleged racial discrimination has lost his appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, with the federal panel finding the district court did not abuse its discretion during the trial, so the verdict in favor of the hospital was valid.

Though he was not an employee at Indiana University Health’s North Hospital, Dr. Talal Hamdan had privileges as an interventional cardiologist at the hospital from 2008 to 2012. During that time, Hamdan alleged his colleagues exhibited hostility toward him because of his Palestinian background.

Hamdan’s colleagues, however, complained he engaged in unprofessional conduct, performed risky procedures and made disrespectful comments to other hospital employees. As a result, Hamdan was ordered to participate in a peer-review discipline process, which resulted in two disciplinary letters being issued to him.

Hamdan successfully challenged the letters on appeal, but he later resigned and relinquished his hospital privileges. He then filed suit against the hospital under 42 U.S. Code section 1981, alleging the hospital had failed to stop his colleagues’ hostile behavior that was motivated by racial discrimination.

During the ensuing trial, Hamdan testified that his reputation had been “untarnished” prior to IU Health’s disciplinary proceedings. Southern District Court Judge William T. Lawrence then allowed the hospital’s counsel to question the doctor about his employment history “solely for the purpose of establishing (his) reputation in the medical community.”

That line of questioning revealed Hamdan’s former colleagues had filed incident reports against him. The hospital’s counsel also questioned him about an alleged six-month probationary period for lying to his colleagues, of which the doctor claimed to have no memory.

The jury eventually returned a verdict for IU Health, but Hamdan moved for a new trial, alleging the district court erred by allowing the hospital to try to impeach him with questions about confidential/privileged matters under state peer-review statutes. The district court denied his motion, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling on Monday.

Judge David Hamilton, writing for a unanimous appellate panel, first wrote in the Monday opinion that the district court properly determined Hamdan had not preserved his argument that the impeachment materials were privileged under state peer-review statutes. Forfeiture notwithstanding, the district court was not required to apply the state statutes because Hamdan failed to establish the questions were prohibited under those statues, Hamilton said, and because the 7th Circuit has not recognized a federal peer-review privilege.

“If a penitent confesses a crime to his priest, for example, neither may be asked about the confession itself, but the penitent may certainly be asked about the facts of the crime,” the judge wrote. “Similarly, here, the hospital was entitled to ask Dr. Hamdan about facts he knew about his own past and reputation, regardless of whether any peer-review committee had investigated those incident reports or complaints.”

Similarly, the 7th Circuit found the district court did not err in concluding the impeachment questions were relevant because “evidence about Dr. Hamdan’s problems with colleagues and staff in prior hospitals would be relevant to his reputation and to the extent to which he might deserve damages… .”

The case is Talal S. Hamdan, M.D. v. Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc., 16-1074.

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