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Date: 09-06-2022

Case Style:

Kristopher Stepps v. The Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas, et al.

Case Number: 4:21-cv-00986

Judge: Lee P. Rudofsky

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas (Pulaski County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Sherri L. Robinson

Description: Little Rock, Arkansas civil rights lawyer represented Plaintiff, who sued defendants on a job discrimination theory based on race.

Dr. Kristopher Stepps brings this suit against the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas and Thomas Schulz. Dr. Stepps alleges that Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981's prohibitions against racial discrimination and retaliation. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.[1]

For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. All of Dr. Stepps's claims have serious deficiencies. These deficiencies are addressed in this Order. Dr. Stepps will have twenty-one days from the date of this Order to remedy the deficiencies. If Dr. Stepps does not timely amend, or if the amendments do not remedy the deficiencies, then the case will be dismissed.

Dr. Stepps was employed as a medical resident in the University of Arkansas's Internal Medicine Residency program from July of 2016 until his termination in July of 2018.[3] Dr. Stepps was one of nine total residents in the program and was one of two Black residents.[4] Dr. Stepps describes the residency program as a “learning environment” where “mistakes occurred among all of the residents.”[5] As a general matter, while everyone made mistakes, not everyone's mistakes were handled the same way. According to Dr. Stepps, when non-Black residents made mistakes, they “were encouraged . . . to learn and to increase their knowledge and their level of competency over time.”[6] But when Dr. Stepps made mistakes, he was “humiliate[d] in the presence of his colleagues.”[7]

Dr. Stepps's allegations of discrimination mostly involve an attending physician named Dr. Clark. Allegedly, Dr. Clark “subjected [Dr. Stepps] to” “hyper scrutiny and criticism” “on an ongoing basis.”[8] In addition to this general allegation, Dr. Stepps adverts to one specific incident between himself and Dr. Clark, which occurred in February of 2017.[9] As to that incident, Dr. Stepps alleges that he “had a disagreement with the [a]ttending [physician], Dr. Clark, regarding [Dr. Stepps's] performance ....”[10] Dr. Stepps does not offer much detail about the disagreement, but the implication is that Dr. Clark unfairly criticized Dr. Stepps's job performance.[11] Dr. Stepps alleges that there was “a complete lack of objective standards” by which his performance was assessed.[12] Indeed, Dr. Stepps held and holds “a good faith belief that he was being subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his race.”[13]

Following the disagreement with Dr. Clark in February of 2017, Dr. Stepps raised his concerns of racial discrimination to the Program Director, Dr. Schulz (a white male).[14] After Dr. Stepps raised his concerns to Dr. Schulz, “the hospital's administration directed [Dr. Stepps] to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Office in Little Rock, Arkansas.”[15] Dr. Stepps filed a formal complaint.[16] Little or no investigation followed, but someone informed Dr. Stepps that he needed to attend “counseling through EAP.”[17]

In April of 2017, Dr. Stepps was placed on “remediation.”[18] Dr. Stepps does not say whose decision it was to place him on remediation. Dr. Stepps alleges that the decision “was directly linked to” Dr. Clark's “false comments,” “hyper scrutiny[,] and criticism.”[19] In any event, Dr. Stepps completed the remediation and advanced to the second level of the residency program.[20]

Dr. Stepps generally alleges that, during the second level of the residency program, he experienced “further difficulties[,] which led to him being placed on a . . . Performance Improvement Plan” in July of 2017.[21] The only specific “difficult[y]” that Dr. Stepps discusses in the Amended Complaint was “encounter[ing] an attending physician [who] criticized [Dr. Stepps's] performance.”[22] It is unclear whether this unnamed attending physician is Dr. Clark or some other physician. Dr. Stepps says that, aside from the criticism of his performance, this attending physician would “never [give Dr. Stepps] input when he was working with him.”[23]

In September of 2017, an unnamed attending physician accused Dr. Stepps of improperly altering the file of a patient.[24] This patient was not being treated by Dr. Stepps.[25] It is unclear whether the unnamed attending physician was Dr. Clark, the unnamed attending physician who criticized Dr. Stepps in July of 2017, or some other attending physician. In any event, Dr. Stepps was told to stay home and study while the accusation was investigated.[26] The results of the investigation were inconclusive.[27] Dr. Stepps maintains that he was falsely accused.[28]

In December of 2017, Dr. Schulz (the Program Director) informed Dr. Stepps that the University did not intend to renew Dr. Stepps's employment contract.[29] Dr. Stepps's employment as a medical resident in the University of Arkansas's Internal Medicine Residency program came to an end when his contract expired in July of 2018.[30]...

* * *

Outcome: Dr. Stepps will have twenty-one days from the date of this Order to remedy the deficiencies in his Amended Complaint. If Dr. Stepps does not amend, the Amended Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.


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