A jury Thursday rejected the claims of a former UCLA cytogenetics research fellow, who alleged he was denied a chance to finish the last 12 months of his two-year fellowship in 2015 because he was born in Taiwan.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about a day before finding in favor of the University of California Board of Regents in the lawsuit brought by Dr. Daniel Chen. The jurors concluded he was not the victim of national origin discrimination or harassment.
Chen holds medical and doctoral degrees and attended Stanford University, UCLA and the UC Irvine School of Medicine. He was accepted into a two-year UCLA postdoctoral fellowship in 2014 to train and become board- certified in cytogenetics by the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics.
Chen’s attorney, Patricio Barrera, said his first trainer in the fellowship was Jennifer Pelkey, a co-defendant in the lawsuit who also was exonerated by the jury. Barrera alleged that during a three-month period at the beginning of the first year of the fellowship, Pelkey harassed Chen and unfairly criticized his capabilities.
Chen declined to comment on the verdict and referred questions to Barrera, who said it is often difficult for a plaintiff in a discrimination case to prove that the defendant/employer’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the alleged harm. He said he and Chen will explore their options, including whether to appeal.
“This was a righteous case,” Barrera said.
Although Wendy Wei later replaced Pelkey as Chen’s training supervisor, Pelkey allegedly continued her criticism of the doctor, questioned his ability to do his work and complained about the plaintiff engaging in conversations with other doctors and staff of Chinese descent in Mandarin, the plaintiff claimed.
But lawyer Stephen Ronk, on behalf of the UC regents, said the environment where Chen worked is racially diverse and includes a large percentage of Asians. Chen was not allowed to continue for a second year in the fellowship because of mistakes, including getting a patient’s gender wrong on a chromosomal analysis, according to Ronk, who said fellows in the program make life-and-death decisions involving actual patients.
“There has to be zero tolerance for medical errors,” Ronk told the jury.
Chen initially claimed only that Pelkey was rude to him and did not raise any allegations of discrimination against her until it was clear he would not receive a second-year fellowship appointment, Ronk said.
Chen received an email from a fellowship committee member, Dr. Fabiola Quintero-Rivera, in June 2015 saying that he was not invited back for a second year of the fellowship. He filed his lawsuit four months later.
Cytogenesis is the formation, development and variation of cells.
–City News Service