Derrick Morton was skeptical about working for Kaiser Permanente’s Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine. The Pasadena, Calif., school hadn’t yet opened to students when he was offered a job in early 2020, and it felt risky to work for such a new institution. But Morton, who is Black, was eventually sold by the medical school’s mission: to train doctors with a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion and to dismantle health disparities.
After a short time as an assistant professor of biomedical science, however, Morton says it became clear that the reality didn’t live up to his “great expectations.” In a lawsuit filed Aug. 22, Morton alleges that Kaiser’s medical school discriminates against Black faculty, fostering a culture of “anti-Black animus” that is “so pervasive and chilling that [Morton] and his Black colleagues could not associate with each other or with Black students for fear of being blacklisted and rendered professionally non-viable.”
At least a dozen times between October 2020 and July 2021, Morton alleges that he complained to supervisors that Black employees were being discriminated against and treated unfairly, including through demotions, discipline, and efforts to “silence” those who spoke out. Morton claims that he personally experienced similar issues—including being appointed to a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisory committee that, he says, was stripped of authority and effectively made secondary to an outside consultant. Morton claims that the toxic work environment at Kaiser caused him to develop panic attacks and insomnia, and to seek out therapy for the first time in his life.
A spokesperson for the medical school said they were “surprised” by Morton’s complaint and “strongly disagree with the allegations and characterization of events” within it, but declined to provide further comment on the lawsuit because litigation is ongoing.
The spokesperson stressed that “addressing equity, inclusion, and diversity in medical education and health care is one of our primary objectives at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.” They noted that the school recruits a diverse body of students and faculty; that anti-racism is woven throughout its curriculum; and that Black faculty members hold many leadership and committee positions at the school.
Morton isn’t the first ex-faculty member to sue Kaiser’s medical school. Last year, former instructor Dr. Aysha Khoury filed a complaint against the school, alleging that she’d been suspended and ultimately terminated—without warning or a satisfying explanation—after leading a