A cardiologist has sued Northwell Health, alleging she faced years...

A cardiologist has sued Northwell Health, alleging she faced years of discrimination when she worked at Southside Hospital, now known as South Shore University Hospital, in Bay Shore. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A Black doctor who worked at Northwell Health’s South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore has sued the health system, alleging decades of racial discrimination that damaged her reputation and chances for advancement.

Dr. Leigh Ann Hutchinson, a cardiologist, said Northwell Health’s actions led her to suffer “extreme humiliation" and emotional distress, including “loss of self-esteem and self-confidence,” according to a federal lawsuit filed March 20 in the Eastern District of New York.

During her employment, the lawsuit states, Hutchinson "reasonably felt degraded, victimized, embarrassed, and emotionally distressed."

A lawyer listed as representing Hutchinson could not be reached for comment Monday. Northwell Health said in a statement to Newsday that the company does not comment on active litigation.

“Northwell Health nurtures a culture that supports equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging, where every team member and patient is treated with dignity and respect and feels welcomed, valued and heard,” the statement said.

The lawsuit outlines alleged racial discrimination starting in the early 2000s.

In 2021, Hutchinson filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging unlawful discrimination by Northwell Health. Last year, the division said that probable cause existed to believe Northwell Health had or was “engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of."

In the late 1990s, Hutchinson founded an electrophysiology lab at Southside Hospital, now known as South Shore University Hospital. The Yale medical school graduate was also chairperson of the hospital's electrophysiology department. 

In the summer of 2004, the lawsuit alleges, Hutchinson performed a procedure on a patient at Southside Hospital to treat "a rare and complex arrhythmia." During the procedure, the patient suffered complications and died, according to the suit.

After the patient’s death, the lawsuit said, a peer review found Hutchinson’s performance complied with Northwell Health’s protocols and was within industry standards.

Yet, the hospital system disciplined Hutchinson, including making her take remedial training, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleges that no “similarly situated white male physicians” were required to undergo remedial training after a patient’s death.

Hutchinson then had to find alternative facilities to perform anything but the most basic electrophysiology procedures. She was blocked from performing a basic procedure at Southside Hospital after she complained of discrimination, the lawsuit stated.

By 2010, the lawsuit alleges, staff refused to provide the required oversight so she could perform complex procedures, hindering her compensation. Meanwhile, several white male cardiologists received oversight for similar procedures, the lawsuit stated.

By 2021, the hospital system removed her from the echocardiology and EKG reading schedule for the calendar year, the lawsuit said.

The alleged discrimination has cost her financially, the lawsuit said. Her payment for activities at the hospital had dwindled from more than $1 million in 2004 to an estimated $100,000 to $200,000.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson alleges in the lawsuit, several male cardiologists who had similar professional backgrounds grossed an estimated $3 million per year.

The hospital system is quoted as saying in a state Division of Human Rights investigation that it saw Hutchinson more as a volunteer. Hutchinson said she was an independent contractor.

In the lawsuit, Hutchinson is seeking payment of her legal fees and damages “to otherwise make her whole for any losses suffered as a result of such unlawful employment practices.”

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