3 physicians in their 50s accuse Hackensack Meridian of age discrimination

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Three former employees of Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center are accusing the organization of age discrimination, according to court documents cited by NJBIZ.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 28 by board-certified pediatric emergency room physicians, alleges that the plaintiffs were fired Feb. 17 because of their age. Their average age was 55.

Usha Avva, MD, Nina Gold, MD, and Kathleen Reichard, DO, contend they were the oldest full-time pediatric emergency room physicians that Hackensack University Medical Center employed — and the only full-time pediatric emergency room physicians who were board certified in pediatric emergency medicine — at the time of their termination. According to the lawsuit, the physicians were told they were terminated because of the decrease in patient volume caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the plaintiffs said the hospital had hired five pediatric emergency room physicians under 40 within 18 months that preceded the plaintiffs' terminations, and the hospital hired two of the retained physicians, who were 34 and 35 years old, respectively, in September 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

"If there was no business need for layoffs in September 2020, when defendants added two new physicians, there certainly was no need for layoffs five months later in February 2021," the plaintiffs argue. "By that time, pediatric emergency department patient volume had already begun increasing and a return to pre-pandemic patient volume was in sight."

The plaintiffs also allege that spreadsheets purporting to objectively rate and rank Hackensack University Medical Center's pediatric emergency medicine physicians in certain performance categories were used to justify the terminations.

The lawsuit seeks remedies including back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees for alleged violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health, which includes the medical center and is also listed as a defendant, told Becker's it is the health system's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

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