Physician suing Erlanger CEO over racial discrimination adds more details to lawsuit

The exterior of Erlanger hospital is shown in this file photo.

A longtime physician who is suing Erlanger hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel over allegedly ignoring racial discrimination complaints has added more details to his complaint.

In an amended complaint filed May 14 in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court, Thomas J. Brooks III, who is black, said he recently met with black professionals in Erlanger's Department of Diversity and on its board of directors to discuss his concerns about possible discrimination at the hospital. Brooks said one initially appeared interested but later backed away in 2017, and the other failed to properly investigate a federal discrimination complaint he made in 2015.

Around the same time, Brooks said, Erlanger officials told him he could no longer provide medical services anywhere else in the area if he wanted to treat poorer, often uninsured patients at two community health centers associated with the hospital.

Brooks said hospital officials were retaliating against him, given that his medical privileges at Erlanger were suspended for no legal reason in 2017, as he alleged in his suit, and that he'd been trying to raise discrimination issues for 15 years that focused on improving health care needs for the black community,

Brooks said he's been licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee since 1982 and has had hospital privileges that would allow him to practice at Erlanger since 1978, when he was an intern and resident. He retired July 1, 2017, from Family Health Services on Wilcox Boulevard, according to a local news report in The Chattanoogan, and named only Spiegel in his suit, saying the CEO since 2013 was aware of Brooks' complaints and oversaw any discipline against him.

photo Kevin Spiegel

In a response filed May 29, attorneys for Spiegel denied many of Brooks' claims, saying the hospital hadn't discriminated against anyone, nor had it broken any federal laws. Though attorneys admitted some officials met with Brooks to discuss his concerns, they denied his claims, saying they lacked information in some incidences "to form a belief about the truth of the remaining allegations."

"Defendant admits that [Brooks] filed a Title VI grievance and Erlanger reviewed and investigated that Title VI grievance," attorney Arthur Brock wrote in the May 29 response. "Before Erlanger notified Dr. Brooks of the results of the investigation, Dr. Brooks officially withdrew the Title VI grievance but thereafter requested that Erlanger review [it]. It did so and, finding no evidence to support the allegations set forth therein, issued a letter stating the same."

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said Thursday the hospital's policy is to not comment on pending litigation. Right now, the case is set for trial next summer on July 16. There is a check-up date scheduled for June 26, 2019, before U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips in Nashville. Between now and then, both parties will exchange evidence and likely take depositions as they move toward a settlement, trial or dismissal.

Brooks said Thursday he's excited for that prospect since Erlanger's response to his amended complaint "provided no information to support any of their denials while ignoring the abundance of information that will soon be available to the community."

"I feel strongly the documents and information I have provided to my counsel, along with that which will be obtained through the court system, [show] a clear pattern of political favoritism and discrimination ... that have impacted not only myself, but other white, black and other ethnic physicians who have practiced at Erlanger Medical Center," Brooks said Thursday.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.