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Hamdan v. Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 22, 2018

Talal S. Hamdan, M.D. Plaintiff-Appellant,
Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 13, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:13-cv-195-WTL-MJD - William T. Lawrence, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Manion and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

         Dr. Talal Hamdan, a U.S. citizen of Middle-Eastern (Palestinian) descent, sued Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc. for discriminating against him based on race. Dr. Hamdan was not an employee of the hospital and so could not sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He sued instead under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a law first enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, after ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, to protect the ability of newly freed slaves to enter into and enforce contracts, especially contracts regarding land and their labor. Dr. Hamdan alleged discrimination regarding the benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions in his contractual relationship with the hospital.

         A jury trial ended with a verdict for the hospital. Dr. Hamdan then moved for a new trial. He argued that the district court had erred in allowing the hospital to ask him impeachment questions relating to his prior work at other hospitals. Dr. Hamdan contends the subjects of these questions were both irrelevant and privileged under state peer-review statutes. We find no abuse of discretion and affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Dr. Hamdan was an interventional cardiologist with privileges at the hospital from 2008 to 2012. He asserts that he suffered hostile treatment from his colleagues because of his Middle-Eastern background and that the hospital turned a blind eye to the mistreatment. His colleagues, on the other hand, complained about him. They told the hospital that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct, performing risky procedures and making offensive, demeaning, and disrespectful comments to colleagues and staff.

         The hospital responded by forcing Dr. Hamdan to participate in a peer-review discipline process. The process is triggered when an incident report is filed against a doctor. A committee of the doctor's peers then reviews the doctor's actions and may recommend discipline. The hospital's peer-review committee issued Dr. Hamdan two disciplinary letters. He successfully challenged the charges through an appeal process, and the hospital's board of directors ultimately voided the letters. In 2012, however, Dr. Hamdan resigned from the hospital and relinquished his hospital privileges.

         Dr. Hamdan then filed this suit against the hospital under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race discrimination, alleging that the hospital failed to stop hostile behavior by his colleagues. He alleged, for example, that colleagues barricaded a conference-room door with tables so that he could not pray there and made comments about his "kind." More generally, he alleged in the language of § 1981 that the hospital denied him the same conditions of a contractual relationship that a "white citizen" would have enjoyed.

         During discovery the hospital obtained information from Dr. Hamdan's prior employers about a variety of problems in his work at four hospitals-one in Louisiana where Dr. Hamdan did his residency, another in Michigan where he did a cardiology fellowship, and two in Indiana where he had worked for several years more recently.

         The case went to trial. During opening statements, Dr. Hamdan's lawyer told the jury he would be asking for between fifteen and fifty-six million dollars for damage to Dr. Hamdan's reputation. Dr. Hamdan testified on direct examination about his reputation. He swore that it was "untarnished" before he received the now-voided disciplinary letters from the defendant hospital. The judge then agreed with the hospital that "the door has indeed been opened regarding Dr. Hamdan's reputation and how the adverse letters have affected a reputation." The judge allowed the hospital to cross-examine the doctor about "other incidents" bearing on his reputation solely for the purpose of establishing [his] reputation in the medical community."

         On cross-examination, the hospital questioned Dr. Hamdan at length about his employment history before joining the hospital. No documents about Dr. Hamdan's prior work history were actually introduced into evidence. Dr. Hamdan conceded orally that former colleagues had filed incident reports about him before he affiliated with the defendant hospital. He testified, however, that he did not remember particular accusations from those incident reports, such as over-sedating patients, behaving inappropriately at a patient's bedside, or interacting poorly with staff. He also testified that he could not recall allegations that he had been condescending and non-collaborative or verbally degrading of colleagues.

         Dr. Hamdan's appeal highlights one particular portion of the cross-examination about his reputation for dishonesty. The focus was whether Dr. Hamdan had been placed on a six-month probation at a Michigan hospital for lying to his peers and behaving unprofessionally After the court had sustained Dr. ...

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