November 10, 2017

Woman who filed whistleblower lawsuit against UNMH testifies in court

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Statue of a Lobo on the University of New Mexico campus.Flickr cc

The former University of New Mexico medical resident who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university testified Thursday, the fourth day of the jury trial in Second Judicial District Court.

Dr. Cynthia Herald, who accused medical school administrators of unlawfully firing her after she told them a male colleague raped her, gave her account of both the alleged rape and the aftermath.

Herald told the jury that after the alleged attack she went home and took a shower before she began “soaking and crying for about an hour.”

“I just wanted to wash everything off of me down the drain,” Herald said.

Herald also explained to the jury why she didn’t file a police report against the male doctor.

“Instead of being the doctor who was smart or the doctor who was competent, I was always going to be known as the doctor who was raped,” Herald said through tears.

Herald also described her experience reporting the alleged rape in a meeting with three high level administrators of the UNMH medical school’s residency program. She said the three male administrators asked specific details about her allegation.

“I don’t think you want to say these things to anyone, let alone your employers,” Herald told the jury.

Still, Herald said, her male bosses seemed hesitant to move forward with an investigation for fear of staining the reputation of the school’s residency program. “I got the distinct feeling, in the meeting, that they wanted to keep it quiet and protect the program and that they wanted me to go along to get along and that it would definitely not be in my interest to go against them,” Herald said.

Herald said that while there was a woman in the meeting taking notes, Herald was later told the notes were destroyed and there was no record of the discussion. Earlier in the trial, Dr. John Wills, one of Herald’s supervisors at the time, testified there were no notes from the meeting, but did not say what happened to them.

Herald’s lawyer Randi McGinn painted a picture of a medical school’s staff that pushed aside allegations of rape in order to save the school’s reputation and used the excuse of poor performance to dismiss Herald from the program.

McGinn also dug into Herald’s past as a young girl from blue collar family in south Detroit  who overcame two personal medical issues and the death of her father to finally realize her dream of becoming a doctor.

Herald told jurors she was eventually pushed out of the residency program with a “black mark” on her record that prevented her from finishing her clinical work anywhere else.

The other witness to testify on Thursday included forensic psychologist, Dr. Samuel Roll, who spoke as an expert witness. Roll testified that Herald is clearly suffering from depression” as a direct result of losing her position at UNMH. He added that getting kicked out of a residency program is “like a death sentence.”

He said the tone of the meeting between Herald and her bosses was “adversarial” in nature instead of nurturing and comforting as he said it should have been.

UNMH’s lawyers did not get a chance to cross-examine Herald, but they did question Roll.

UNM attorney Patricia Williams questioned the processes that Roll used to analyze Herald and what he accepted as fact during the process.

“I just have what’s in the report and what she told me,” Roll said.

When asked by McGinn why she is pursuing the lawsuit and why she hadn’t just given up, Herald responded, “Someone has to persist.”

If the jury decides in favor of Herald, UNMH could be forced to re-enroll Herald into the residency program. McGinn also asked Herald if she would be ok with that.

“I think I could go back and hold my head up high that I persisted in this matter and show the university that I made change,”Herald said.

The trial will not resume until next week as state courts are closed on Friday in observance of Veterans Day. The trial is scheduled to run through next week.

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