Lawsuit: Erlanger ignores racial discrimination complaints

Erlanger Hospital is seen from the UTC library's balcony in this Dec. 9, 2014, file photo.

A longtime Chattanooga physician says Erlanger hospital suspended his ability to see patients in the hospital's medical centers in 2017 for "no legal reason."

photo Kevin Spiegel

Dr. Thomas J. Brooks III, who is black, said Erlanger hospital has a history of ignoring racial discrimination complaints, according to a lawsuit he filed in January in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court.

He is asking for a jury trial and $100,000 in damages from Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel, the only named defendant.

According to the lawsuit, Spiegel had "full knowledge" of Brooks' racial discrimination complaints, but he and previous CEOs have "gone out of their way to ignore and not address" them. The suit does not disclose the complaints but says Brooks consistently emailed Spiegel about them.

Erlanger attorneys have not filed an official response in court. Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles couldn't comment Tuesday on why Erlanger suspended Brooks' hospital privileges.

Those privileges allow practicing physicians to visit their patients at Erlanger's medical centers. According to his lawsuit, Brooks has had hospital privileges at Erlanger since 1982 as a staff physician.

According to news accounts from 2017, Brooks said Erlanger "cherry picked" the hundreds of physicians it brought to Chattanooga and ignored the fact that two black medical schools are nearby.

Brooks was associated with Family Health Services on Wilcox Boulevard before his announced retirement in June 2017. According to his lawsuit, Spiegel visited that facility around the time he became CEO in 2013.

"[He] assured Dr. Brooks that what African-American physicians had accomplished at FHS was significant to the community and that it was 'only right' that Erlanger develop a positive relationship with the physicians and FHS facility," the lawsuit states. "Talk did not turn into action."

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