MEDICAL CENTER Former GU Employees Continue Allegations By Charlotte Nichols Hoya Staff Writer

The Human Resource Department issued four letters on March 7 denying accusations that a supervisor in the research division of the Department of Radiation had unfairly treated several of her Research Fellows because of their Korean ethnicity. The denials came after four cases had been filed against the doctor in December, two of which were reported in The Hoya on Feb. 12.

Among the four researchers’ complaints against the doctor were accusations that they had not been paid for their full term as employees, had been verbally discriminated against and abused on the job, pressured to work unfair hours and had eventually been fired unfairly.

“If we didn’t follow [the doctor’s] ways, she often shouted and her face turned stony hard. She told me I didn’t respect them. It was obviously abuse. Also, I never saw her shout at western people,” said Dr. Joo Sun Choi, one of the four Korean scientists who filed a complaint.

The doctor was contacted by The Hoya but declined to comment on the situation.

The decision to deny the accusations was made after weeks of investigation into the issue, according to the Human Resources Department.

“The university’s Human Resources office has conducted a full investigation into this issue, in keeping with the H.R. policy. After interviewing the people with knowledge of the situation, H.R. determined there was `no indication of any wrongdoing’ on the part of the faculty member,” Director of Communications for the Medical Center Amy DeMaria said.

Hwa-Young Lee, another researcher that filed a case against the doctor, said she believed the investigation was not sufficiently thorough.

“I think Human Resources made a very biased conclusion. They had very inadequate research because they only researched one out of the four people who filed cases, and accepted [the doctor’s] story. They talked to the people who still work for [the doctor], but the people who still work there are influenced because they don’t want to get fired,” Lee, who says she was never contacted said.

The letters state that Human Resources “conducted extensive interviews and reviewed documents relevant to the situation,” including e-mails and contracts. The letters addressed the specific complaints of each researcher, going through a point-by-point analysis of each complaint and the resulting denial that the complaint was accurate.

“There may have been occasions when there were misunderstandings or miscommunications between you and [the doctor], but the investigation found no indication of any purposeful wrongdoing on the part of [the doctor],” Human Resource Specialist Ronald D. Walker, who signed all four of the letters, said at the conclusion of each.

To the complaint of abuse and unfair treatment, Human Resources responded that the long hours were an inherent part of the research and no different than those worked by other researchers. According to human resources, “the investigation found no indication that [the doctor’s] expectations of you were different from her expectations of others in the research areas for which she was responsible, or that those expectations were unrealistic or abusive.”

Three days prior to the issuance of the letters, Choi demonstrated against her firing on the second floor of the research building by attaching two posters to a wall explaining her story. Choi filed a complaint with the other researchers in Dec. but was not fired until this month. She believes her dismissal was a response to the filing the complaint.

“I think I was fired because I reported to Human Resources. After the report, [the doctor] rarely talked to me except in research and she felt uncomfortable to meet me,” said Choi.

Two Washington Korean newspapers published Choi’s story and demonstration, and Choi said many people came up to encourage and console her. The day after the demonstration, Choi was moved to a different office under a different supervisor and was restricted to work only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. unless she received permission from the new advisor.

To the complaints of not being paid for their full term and their alleged unfair firing, Human Resources explained that the researchers were well aware that the position was dependent on grant money and that they would be working on a volunteer basis in the beginning until grant money could support them.

“In fact, for visa purposes, you were required to prove that you had sufficient funds to support yourself while working in [the doctor’s] office,” Human Resources said in the letters. “The placement of a person in a paid position did not depend on whether they were Korean or non-Korean but on funding availability.”

Human Resources also said that the researchers were not “fired,” but rather the grant for their funding expired. “It was the availability of funding sources, rather than the whim of [the doctor], which determined whether and when researchers in the lab got paid positions,” Human Resources said.

Choi had signed a contract when a grant opened at the end of January, four months after she first came to work in the research center. In the contract, she agreed the term of the position was either one-year or until the grant expired, whichever came first. The grant funding was not renewed and will expire at the end of arch. Choi received her dismissal notice on March 1, one month before the grant expires, but only one month after she had received the grant in the first place.

“We thought [the doctor] chose the shortest term grant to hire Dr. Choi. The reason we thought [the doctor] wanted to fire Dr. Choi was because she had already reported her case to Human Resources. [The doctor] pretends it’s a grant problem whenever they want to fire somebody,” Lee said.

However, the contract explains that “the position is available due to the unexpected departure of another researcher who has worked on this project,” and so the grant could expire as early as March because it was the continuation of an earlier grant. Although this is the case, other principal investigators in the department are having trouble judging which side is correct in this situation.

“I don’t understand why you would hire someone when there’s only one month left on the grant,” said one P.I. Another said it was a delicate issue and that it was difficult to choose one side over another.

As of the demonstration on March 4 and the letters from Human Resources on March 7, Choi was the only one of the four researchers still working in the Medical Center. However, when her grant expires at the end of this month, she says she will have to return to Korea if she does not find another job opening in the next few weeks.

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