An Indian American victim of a hate crime is now being sued by several of his employees for creating a hostile environment which sought to kick out older female workers.
The lawsuit names Prabhjot Singh, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health and Chair of the Department of Health System Design and Global Health at the Mount Sinai Health System; as well as two of his male colleagues; and Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai Health System’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.
The 174-page lawsuit was filed by eight plaintiffs April 26 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and was first reported by Science magazine. Prior to Singh’s arrival in 2015, the core staff of the institute comprised physicians Natasha Anushri Anandaraja, who is Sri Lankan, and Holly Atkinson, “who helped build a pioneering and nationally recognized program in global health, according to the lawsuit. Anandaraja is 44, while Atkinson is 66.
Singh was hired by Charney after the institute received a $12.5 million grant from the Arnhold family; the 32-year old was still completing his residency at Mount Sinai. The lawsuit alleges that Charney rejected the recommendation of the selection committee — physician Steffanie Strathdee, associate dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California-San Diego — and chose Singh instead.
“Singh declared that he wanted to work only with young people. He promptly set about denigrating and humiliating the institute’s existing employees who had been responsible for its success, most of them older women,” alleged the lawsuit.
“He was abusive, dismissive and hostile. He denounced what he termed the female ‘legacy staff’ for multiple, unpredictable reasons. He would accuse them of failing to accomplish tasks he had not asked them to do, and when they did what he asked, he would deride them for not doing something else,” stated plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“He turned AIGH into an unhappy and tumultuous workplace, particularly for women,” noted the plaintiffs, adding: “The people he liked to hire were overwhelmingly young men.”
By the end of 2018, 13 women, many of whom developed symptoms of depression, insomnia, and a terror of going to work, quit the institute.
Singh’s chief of staff, David Berman, who is named as a defendant in the suit, was known for violently screaming at women in the office, and the lawsuit claims Singh ignored such behavior.
Defendant Bruno Silva, an employee of Mount Sinai, regularly called women “bit**es” and “c**ts” including fellow employees, donors, and women from other parts of Mount Sinai, according to the lawsuit, which adds that he would regularly make disparaging remarks about their appearance, which Singh did nothing to curb.
The lawsuit claimed that Singh inflated his resume to get the post. It further claims that he lied to donors, including USAID, to get funding for specific projects.
Mount Sinai did investigate complaints from staffers, but concluded that Singh had done nothing that could be perceived as gender discrimination because he was also rude to men.
“Singh’s victims got no second chances: they were forced out or fired, their previously stellar careers a mess, some needing to see counselors and take antidepressants to deal with the stress and humiliation he heaped on them,” alleged the lawsuit.
“They did nothing wrong, and continue to suffer; Singh, aided by Charney, Berman and Silva, left destruction in his wake, and continues as Mount Sinai’s favored son,” stated the plaintiffs.
According to the New York Post, Mount Sinai said in a statement that it plans to “vigorously defend the action.”
In April of 2014, Singh was walking through a park in Manhattan with a friend when he was approached by a group of 12 to 15 young men.
"I heard, ‘Get him. Osama.' I heard ‘terrorist.' And I felt somebody grab my beard," Singh, a Sikh, told the Associated Press.
He was then kicked and punched in an attack that ended after other people intervened, according to police. Singh has since been an advocate for bias-related crimes against the Sikh community and testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2017 that he has been the target of three attacks post-911.
Previously, Singh was an assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute, where he co-chaired the One Million Community Health Worker Campaign.