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ALTMAN v. NEW YORK CITY HEALTH & HOSPS. CORP.

September 27, 1995

KURT ALTMAN, M.D., Plaintiff, -v.- NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION, METROPOLITAN HOSPITAL CENTER, BILLY E. JONES, M.D., PRESIDENT, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION, and DENNIS A. GOWIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, METROPOLITAN HOSPITAL CENTER, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARTIN

 JOHN S. MARTIN, Jr., District Judge:

 Plaintiff, a recovering alcoholic who has worked at Metropolitan Hospital Center ("Metropolitan" or "the hospital") for approximately 40 years, has brought claims against the hospital and the other defendants under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and under § 296 of New York's Executive Law. His claims arise from the refusal of the hospital to reinstate him as Chief of the hospital's Department of Internal Medicine approximately three months after he had been found visibly drunk while treating a patient, but after he had completed a one-month in-patient treatment program and had entered a recovery program sponsored by the State Medical Society. These claims are now before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons given below, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendants' motion is granted.

 Since some familiarity with Metropolitan's administrative hierarchy is necessary for an understanding of the issues raised in this lawsuit, an overview of that hierarchy is provided before the facts of the case are discussed.

 Metropolitan Hospital

 New York's Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC") is a public benefit corporation which operates New York's municipal hospitals. Metropolitan is a member institution of HHC. It has approximately 500 beds and primarily serves the population of East Harlem. Altman Dep. at 160; see Stone Dep. at 119-20.

 Metropolitan's Executive Director is responsible for the overall management of the hospital, and reports directly to the President of HHC. Gowie Dep. at 20-21. The Executive Director from 1987 through July 1993 was defendant Dennis Gowie, and the President of HHC from 1992 through 1994 was defendant Billie E. Jones, M.D. Gowie Dep. at 19-20; Jones Dep. at 43; Pl.'s Ex. 26.

 Through an affiliation agreement with New York Medical College ("the College"), a private institution, Metropolitan is supplied with physicians and other professional staff who oversee both the provision medical care at Metropolitan and the hospital's residency programs. See Adler Dep. at 10-11. However, assignments to several positions, including Metropolitan's Medical Director and the heads of the hospital's 19 clinical departments (the "Chiefs of Service"), are made by the President of HHC upon recommendation of the Executive Director, after having been nominated by the Dean of the College. Adler Dep. at 267-69; Gowie Dep. at 22-23. The President has final and authority to determine the status of Chiefs of Service. See Jones Dep. at 91.

 Metropolitan's Medical Director has ultimate responsibility for medical care at the hospital. His duties include supervising the Chiefs of Service, serving as the Executive Director's chief medical advisor and overseeing staff compliance with hospital policy, medical education and research in the hospital, and the credentialing of medical and residential staff. Stone Dep. at 167-72. Since 1989, the Medical Director has been Dr. Richard Stone, who also serves as the Assistant Dean of New York Medical College. Id.; Pl.'s Ex. 12, P 1.

 The Chiefs of Service each supervise the provision of care to the patients of a particular clinical department by the Department's staff. In addition to this supervisory responsibility, it is the Chief's duty to ensure that the Department's "quality assurance" program is properly implemented and to oversee the recruitment, hiring, assignment, evaluation and discipline of physicians within the Department, as well as the evaluation of the remainder of the Department's medical staff and of residents and medical students within the Department. See Defs.' Ex. F (Functional Position Description); Altman Dep. at 160-76. *fn1"

 Reporting to the Chief of each Department are the Chiefs of various specialized "sections" within the Department, and below the Section Chiefs are attending physicians, who oversee residents and treat patients. Gowie Dep. at 23-25; Jones Dep. at 173-75. In the Department of Internal Medicine (the "Department of Medicine" or "Department"), the clinical Department in which plaintiff has worked throughout his career at Metropolitan, attending physicians are assigned to "ward attending" duty in rotations of between two and three months per year: the "ward attending" physician is the physician of record for between 15 and 25 of the Department's patients, and oversees the treatment of these patients by a team of residents and interns. Altman Dep. at 41-43, 149; Stone Dep. at 139-42. The two- or three-month rotation system is necessary because "ward attending" duty is "very labor-intensive" and, often, quite stressful. See Stone Dep. at 140, 143. When an attending physician is not on "ward attending" duty, the tasks he performs include treatment of clinic patients, supervision of residents and medical students, and, at least in plaintiff's case, covering the employee health care service. Id. at 143.

 Dr. Altman's Removal from the Chief of Service Position

 Dr. Altman has worked at Metropolitan since his residency there in 1958. See Defs.' Exs. A, B. Until two years ago, he had gradually risen through the ranks of the hospital's Department of Internal Medicine, with his career reaching its culmination when he was appointed Chief of Service for the Department ("Chief of Medicine") in 1991. Id.

 Dr. Altman had also, from the time he was a resident through the 1980's, had a drinking problem of gradually increasing severity. What began as occasional excess consumption of alcohol at staff parties in the 1960's grew, during the 1970's, into a series of drinking "binges" that lengthened, and involved the consumption of increasingly excessive amounts of alcohol, as the years passed. Altman Dep. at 54-76, 216-21. *fn2" Moreover, Dr. Altman was, by early 1986, addicted to esgic, a barbiturate which had been prescribed to him for headaches in August or September of the previous year. Id. at 89-93, 447-55. *fn3"

 Plaintiff was admitted to Roosevelt Hospital ("Roosevelt") from February 27, 1986 through March 6 of that year and was treated for his dependence on alcohol and on esgic. See Defs.' Ex. P at 1-37. He returned to work soon after leaving Roosevelt, and no one at Metropolitan discussed the reason for his absence with him after his return; nor is there any evidence that anyone, other than the Chief of Medicine at the time, knew why he had been absent. Altman Dep. at 116-23, 222-25. *fn4"

 Plaintiff states that he did not drink any alcohol after his 1986 detoxification until he consumed a glass of wine at a staff social function in the spring of 1992. Id. at 130, 221-22. From that time forward, however, he once again drank regularly, and the amount he drank quickly increased. Id. at 227-60. Concerned, he made an abortive effort to stop drinking in July; but on a vacation to Europe that August with his wife and son, he began consuming massive amounts of alcohol on a daily basis. Id. at 243-44, 270-85. When he returned to work in September, he began hiding bottles at home, taking librium in an attempt to detoxify himself, and, after about two weeks, drinking in the morning. Id. at 312-30. Plaintiff did not tell anyone at Metropolitan about his relapse. Id. at 286-91, 691.

 There Dr. Stone found Dr. Altman visibly drunk while treating a patient. Stone Dep. at 16, 221-22. After inducing plaintiff to leave the clinic on a pretext, Dr. Stone met with plaintiff and with Dr. Adler; at the meeting, Stone and Adler immediately suspended plaintiff from his clinical duties at Metropolitan and told him that he would have to enter a treatment program "if there were any possibility of him returning to his position," and if he wished to avoid referral to the state licensing board on account of the incident. Adler Dep. at 71-73; Stone Dep. at 17-20. Plaintiff agreed to undergo treatment. Stone Dep. at 20.

 Later that afternoon, Dr. Adler informed defendant Gowie of these events and, for the first time, see supra note 2, of plaintiff's drinking problem six years ago. Adler Dep. at 75. Gowie "expressed chagrin" that he had not, until then, been informed of plaintiff's prior history. Gowie Dep. at 55. He told Dr. Adler that Dr. Jones ...


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