The doctor says he's been a target for some time. He says at one point he was even depicted as a gorilla at a medical school faculty party. He is now suing the University of California Board of Regents as the university works to dispute his claims.
Surgeon and professor Dr. Christian Head, an otolaryngologist with the UCLA Head and Neck Department, says colleagues have targeted him using racial slurs and insults for years. But now that he has achieved tenure, and now that the alleged harassment has become unsustainable, he is going public, first appearing in an online video making his case.
"If you want tenure, you make a big stink about this, they're going to crush you," says Dr. Head in the online video. Dr. Head is not teaching about surgeries in the Change.org video. Instead, he is accusing one of the nation's elite universities of discrimination, racism and retaliation. So far, more than 4,000 people have signed the attached petition calling for the university chancellor to intervene.
"The retaliation has become so tremendous, it's having a direct impact on my family," said Dr. Head.
He says the tipping point came in 2006 at a resident party roast meant to poke fun at faculty.
"There was a slide that depicted me as a gorilla," said Dr. Head. "It was a real gorilla on all fours with my head Photoshopped on the gorilla, and with me with a smile on my face and my boss completely nude, Dr. Gerald Berke, sodomizing me with his head smiling at this event. The pain and sorrow that I felt was tremendous."
Dr. Head says another slide also shown at the event suggests he was calling a confidential tip line, exposing his participation in a time-card fraud investigation involving his colleagues.
He says after the event, he approached his bosses and sent out numerous emails informing them of his concerns.
"I think it was even more painful to hear laughing," said Dr. Head. "I went directly to the podium after the slideshow and talked to my boss. And he was very dismissive and just chuckled."
Since then, Dr. Head says he's faced several situations he believes are acts of retaliation from the university. They include two incorrect paychecks for less than a dollar, which he says the university called clerical errors; allegedly being called late to his surgeries; and medical residents allegedly not showing up to his operations.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement, saying in part:
"When these allegations were brought to my attention, the university conducted a review of the charges and was unable to substantiate them. At that time, the person making these allegations was given all the information necessary to decide whether to make full use of those internal procedures or to bypass them in favor of the legal system. That is a choice any faculty member, or indeed any student or staff member, can make. Such a choice does not mean that UCLA administrators failed to act on this person's behalf or that UCLA failed to respond."
"He did report this to his boss, to the dean of the medical school," said Dr. Head's attorney, Shannon Foley. "He reported this to the regents and to the chancellor's office."
Foley says they chose to go the legal route because the retaliation against Dr. Head grew so severe, and because he felt his emails and complaints were being ignored.
"They're very well aware," said Foley. "Most institutions would have done something about this, and in a big way."
A statement released by a UCLA spokesman says in part:
"UCLA works hard to maintain a welcoming, respectful and inclusive environment that promotes diversity throughout the student body, faculty, staff and health care enterprise. UCLA also takes all appropriate steps to protect employees from harassment and intimidation. State whistleblower laws prohibit retaliation against employees who express concerns about what they consider to be illegal activity -- such as harassment based on race -- and university policies embrace these laws."
"It's great to have policies, but they need to do something about them," said Foley.
"This is something I would hope any individual placed in this position would try to do," said Dr. Head. "It's the right thing. It's the morally just thing."
UCLA released another statement in response to Dr Head's allegation about his surgeries:
"Allegations that the UCLA Health System would knowingly take actions that could jeopardize a patient's care are absolutely outrageous. No operation can take place at UCLA without many procedural steps to insure that all necessary and required personnel are present."