Korean Dentist at NYUCD: ‘I was discriminated against’

NYU College of Dentistry (Photo by Heejeong Yu for Voices of NY)

Jaclyn Park, a 55-year-old Korean-American dentist working at NYU College of Dentistry’s Urgent Care Clinic, filed a complaint with the New York Southern District Court against NYUCD and NYUCD clinical associate professor David Hershkowitz for race discrimination and violating the whistleblower protection law.

Park graduated from NYUCD in 1991. She was hired as a part-time faculty member in NYUCD’s Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care in 2009 and Dr. Park was assigned to cover the Urgent Care Clinic as an adjunct clinical instructor in 2014. She remained employed as an adjunct faculty member, working part-time.

According to the complaint, since 2014 Park had applied six to seven times a year for a full-time position (full-time faculty), but the school did not promote her to full-time status, selecting white, male dentists, and thereby discriminating against her. Park claims that all the other doctors hired had less work experience or fewer responsibilities. She explained that even her colleagues expected her to be promoted this past February, but it didn’t happen.

Park said: “Hershkowitz, who is responsible for overseeing the full-time appointment process [for the school’s Cariology and Comprehensive Care Department], keeps refusing to promote me without giving me any reason.” She added that during a search in 2016 to hire a full-time employee, “Hershkowitz interviewed other candidates, and said ‘I already know Park’ and refused to interview me.” She also claimed that Hershkowitz did not give Park an opportunity to work on weekends (the Urgent Care Clinic’s weekend practice, the AHEC), but gave only his close white colleagues a chance.

It is also stated in the complaint that in addition to Park, a Chinese dentist had not been promoted to a full-time position for the past 20 years but received a promotion when there was a shortage of manpower and demand in a less-desirable facility away from the school’s main location.

Park claimed that she was even subjected to “financial loss” beyond having experienced racism, defamation and psychological damage. This is because full-time employees receive higher salaries and benefits such as health insurance.

The lawsuit is eye-catching in that NYUCD is a school whose student body represents various backgrounds and ethnicities.

“NYUCD now relies on international students to fill its ranks; in particular, Korean students make up roughly one quarter of the student body. The School markets extensively to the Korean and Korean American communities, but its enthusiasm for tuition from these groups does not extend to representing them at the faculty level,” the petition states.

“Most of the management and faculty are white,” said Park.

“I couldn’t stand the fact that doctors with two years’ experience were promoted because they were white instead of me who has 25 years’ experience and worked at the clinic for more than 10 years,” Park said. “I want to let people know the truth even if I get hurt.”

Park’s attorney, Veronica Jung, said, “It’s clear that smart and talented professionals are discriminated against just because they are Asian or Korean. We want not only simple compensation but also proper punishment.”

Besides racism, the suit also claims violation of the whistleblower protection law. Health care workers can whistleblow in case patients are in danger and they are protected from retaliation by law.

On average, 60 patients a day visit the NYUCD Urgent Care Clinic where Park works and junior doctors perform medical procedures under the care of experienced doctors.

Park claimed that there were dangerous cases during the treatment process in the clinic. It is said in the complaint: “Students at the Urgent Care Clinic performed medical procedures on patients without receiving Dr. Park’s approval to do so” and “a student attempted to perform a surgical procedure despite the patient’s dangerously high blood pressure.” In another case, there was “repeated failure” on the part of some students “to complete necessary pre-procedure documentation.”

Park said that she reported these issues to Hershkowitz several times, but he dismissed Park’s concerns and refused to get involved in [operations of the Urgent Care Clinic] and rather negatively affected her promotion.

Jung said that the school attempted to deal with this issue by informing Park of the interview schedule when it heard about the lawsuit filed by Park on May 1.

“The lawsuit has already been filed, so at this point, any action from the school has no effect on the outcome of the trial. They are just trying to make this case like it’s nothing.”

A summons to both NYUDC and Hershkowitz was issued on May 2, and the judge for this case has already been selected.

Jung said: “Recently, there have been growing voices against racial discrimination in the workplace. More people have to come forward and talk, so others have confidence.”

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