Northern California Record

Monday, December 16, 2019

Iranian doctor ordered to arbitrate harassment claims against hospital

By Elizabeth Alt | Apr 6, 2018

Medical malpractice 09

LOS ANGELES — California's 2nd District Court of Appeals issued a ruling March 14 ordering a former medical resident to arbitrate her claims of harassment and threats against White Memorial Center. 

White Memorial and Dr. Juan Barrio filed an appeal to order Dr. Gezel Saheli to arbitrate her claims against White after a trial court ordered Saheli to arbitrate her claims except those she brought in accordance with sections of California civil laws that protect against hate crimes, intimidation and violence.

“The trial court declined to consider whether these requirements are preempted by the FAA,” according to information in the ruling. “Saheli simply assumes, without providing or applying any reasoning or principles of contract interpretation, that the phrase 'applicable state ... law' includes California law that is preempted by the FAA.” Judge Tricia A. Bigelow wrote the opinion and was joined by Judge Debra Cole-Hall of the Los Angeles Superior Court and Judge Laurence D. Rubin who concurred in a separate opinion.

Saheli, who received her medical training in Iran, began her medical residency in 2016 at White Memorial Medical Center. Saheli filed a lawsuit against White in February 2017 alleging she was fired in retaliation for reporting HIPAA violations and unsafe patient conditions to the Accreditation Council, according to information in the ruling. Saheli claims that after she reported the first violation, Barrio threatened to fire her and made sexual comments and racial slurs to her. Saheli also alleges that a large motivating factor in Barrio’s threats was her being a woman. Saheli stated that two California Acts preempt the arbitration agreement she signed with White. The Bane Act protects people against continued violence, threats, intimidation, coercion and any attempts to interfere with a person’s statutory or constitutional rights, and the Ralph Act forbids acts of violence, because of a person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, and or political party in a labor dispute.

Saheli was placed on a paid leave of absence pending termination in March 2017, and White filed a petition to order her to arbitrate all her claims against them in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act, the ruling states. White Memorial said that Saheli signed a Post-Doctoral Training Agreement in 2016 that acknowledged she would arbitrate all claims against White which doesn’t exclude the two Acts.

The trial court found that “the waiver of any forum or procedure under the Ralph Act and Bane Act is unenforceable unless expressly not made as a condition of entering into a contract for services” and ruled that Saheli could not be forced to arbitrate her claims under the Ralph and Bane Acts, according to the ruling.

Reversing the trial court decision, the appeals court found that the trial court erred in finding that the Acts made the agreement Saheli signed unenforceable. “The Ralph Act and Bane Act, as amended by AB 2617, unquestionably discriminate against arbitration by placing special restrictions on waivers of judicial forums and procedures in connection with claims brought under those acts,” Bigelow wrote, stating that the Acts’ “special requirements represent a hostility to arbitration and their purpose is primarily, if not exclusively, to discourage arbitration of Ralph Act and Bane Act claims.”

Rubin noted in his concurring opinion that he agreed with the majority that the acts were not preempted by the FAA. But Rubin said that his concern -- instead of Bigelow’s concern that the unique requirements in the Acts in question were hostile toward arbitration -- lies in the thought that in this and similar cases, arbitration was being favored.

“Our decision today continues the recent march of our nation’s jurisprudence toward eliminating the right to a jury trial (or any trial) in a large number of civil cases by its ever-extending embrace of arbitration.”

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California Second District Court of Appeal