CU med­i­cal school will cut ties over racist post

The Denver Post - - NEWS | DENVER & THE WEST - By Tom McGhee

The Uni­ver­sity of Colorado’s School of Medicine is plan­ning to cut ties with Dr. Michelle Her­ren, a fac­ulty mem­ber and pe­di­atric anes­the­si­ol­o­gist who made a racist re­mark on Face­book.

“We are be­gin­ning the process to ter­mi­nate Dr. Her­ren’s fac­ulty ap­point­ment,” Mark Couch, spokesman for the school, said Thurs­day. “She has ex­pressed val­ues that are at odds with ours and she has com­pro­mised her abil­ity to meet the teach­ing and pa­tient care mis­sion of the School of Medicine.”

Her­ren, who works at Den­ver Health Med­i­cal Cen­ter, holds a non-paid fac­ulty ap­point­ment at the CU School of Medicine and a med­i­cal staff ap­point­ment at Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, where Den­ver Health physi­cians su­per­vise res­i­dents and other med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers in train­ing.

Her­ren re­sponded to a Face­book post prais­ing First Lady Michelle Obama with the state­ment: “Mon­key face and poor ebonic English!!! There! I feel bet­ter and am still not racist!!! Just call­ing it like it is!”

It re­mains un­clear whether Den­ver Health will take sim­i­lar ac­tion against her.

“We are bump­ing up against a First Amend­ment right,” said Kelli Chris­tensen, Den­ver Health spokes­woman. “A lot of peo­ple are work­ing very hard to re­solve this sit­u­a­tion.”

Af­ter The Den­ver Post and other me­dia cov­ered the story, first re­ported by Den­ver7, the hos­pi­tal said Her­ren would not be see­ing pa­tients or pro­vid­ing anes­the­sia ser­vices there un­til fur­ther no­tice.

Den­ver Health also re­leased a state­ment say­ing that of­fi­cials were of­fended by the com­ments, which were made while Her­ren was “act­ing in­de­pen­dently in her pri­vate ca­pac­ity.”

First Amend­ment pro­tec­tions for those in the public sec­tor make it dif­fi­cult to ter­mi­nate or oth­er­wise take ac­tion against an em­ployee for of­fen­sive state­ments out­side the work­place, ac­cord­ing to le­gal experts.

“Gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ers can im­pose re­stric­tions on state­ments made within the work­place or re­fer­ring to the work­place, but they can’t act

on state­ments made out­side the work­place,” said Steven D. Zans­berg, a First Amend­ment lawyer in Den­ver.

And the hos­pi­tal is “a po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sion of the state,” Chris­tensen said.

But a pri­vate em­ployer can fire some­one for com­ments made out­side the work­place, even if there is no ob­vi­ous im­pact on their busi­ness, with­out wor­ry­ing about First Amend­ment pro­tec­tions, said Lorri Ray, a lawyer with Moun­tain States Em­ploy­ers Coun­cil.

If the public spot­light on the com­ments has an im­pact on the hos­pi­tal, its le­gal de­part­ment might find it eas­ier to take ad­verse em­ploy­ment ac­tion, Ray said. “But I’m sure the lawyers are look­ing at it very care­fully be­cause the right of free speech is pro­tected in the public sec­tor.”

In a let­ter ob­tained by The Post, Dr. John Reilly Jr., the CU vice chan­cel­lor for health af­fairs, ex­pressed con­cern to Her­ren over the re­marks, say­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers dis­trib­uted them to CU Re­gents, the School of Medicine, af­fil­i­ated hos­pi­tals and lo­cal me­dia.

“I ask that you in­form me of your per­spec­tive on whether you can con­tinue to teach ef­fec­tively given the mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tions I have re­ceived from stu­dents, fac­ulty and public ex­press­ing their opin­ion that your post­ing demon­strates that you should not be in­volved in the ed­u­ca­tion of our stu­dents,” he wrote.

Reilly’s let­ter also sug­gests that Her­ren’s com­ments had caused wide­spread dam­age.

“Your com­ments and tone are harm­ful to the stu­dents we teach and the pa­tients we care for,” he wrote. “Your deroga­tory, in­sen­si­tive re­marks have re­sulted in harm to oth­ers in our com­mu­nity and be­yond.”

CU’s Board of Re­gents re­quires fac­ulty mem­bers “to re­mem­ber that the public may judge their pro­fes­sion and in­sti­tu­tion by their ut­ter­ances,” he wrote.

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