Dr. Earl Lynch, medical director in the Public Health Department of Santa Barbara County, left his position on July 13, according to an e-mail from department director Dr. Elliot Schulman to doctors working under Lynch.
While it isn’t clear whether he resigned or was fired, Lynch is facing allegations – including one in the form of a lawsuit – of harassment and humiliation from more than one female doctor who worked under him during his tenure as the medical director, which began January 20, 2004. The board of supervisors met with Human Resources Director Sue Paul and County CEO Mike Brown in closed session on June 26 to discuss the lawsuit, as well as a “request for severance package” in the Public Health Department, which was identified by County Counsel Shane Stark as pertaining to Lynch’s position.
Schulman said Lynch’s departure was a personnel issue and he was “constrained by ethics and by law” in what he could say. He did say that Lynch “served very, very ably for the time he was here.”
Lynch recently won the Haring Award from UCSB’s Gevirtz School of Education to “honor his unusually positive efforts to support children with disabilities and their parents in the area,” according to a release from the school. His work allowed children to be diagnosed and get into treatment programs at younger ages. He has also done a lot of work in the area of migrant worker health care, according to the school.
In a letter dated July 17, Schulman informed doctors in the department that Lynch had left as of Friday, July 13. Lynch said his present and future role with the County is being discussed “in house.” When asked if Lynch had been fired, Deputy County Counsel Michael Youngdahl, who is representing Lynch in the lawsuit, said he didn’t know anything about his “personnel relationship” with the county.
In the lawsuit, filed August 15, 2006, in Santa Maria, Dr. Uzma Chaudhry alleges discrimination and harassment based on gender, religion and national origin. Chaudhry is represented by Santa Maria lawyer Karen O’Neil, a partner at Twitchell & Rice who practices in business and employment law. Both Lynch and the county are named in the complaint.
In the 10-page complaint, O’Neil stated that Lynch humiliated and yelled at Chaudhry in front of others, has snooped in her office and gone through files and personal belongings, and doesn’t allow her to respond to his criticism of her.
Because of the pending litigation in the Chaudhry case, which has a trial date set for March 10, 2008, Lynch said in an e-mail he was “not at liberty to respond to these allegations or related questioning except to state that they are unfounded and the plan is to contest vigorously.” Youngdahl said, “You can say virtually anything in a complaint, and it doesn’t mean it’s true. Dr. Chaudrhy has made a number of allegations, and none of them are true.” Beyond that, Youngdahl said the general policy of the County Counsel’s office is to not comment on pending litigation.
Chaudrhy’s complaint isn’t the only one. In a letter submitted to Santa Barbara County Human Resources in 2005, a group calling itself WASH the County of Santa Barbara (Women Against Sexual Harassment), summarily listed seven cases, including the one from Chaudhry, of sexist and racist allegations against Lynch. Many outline cases where alleged victims were forced to resign as a result of Lynch’s alleged intimidating behavior. At least one complaint has been filed with the Equal Employment Office – that of another female doctor who had worked with Lynch and who asked that her name not be released so as not to affect subsequent legal action. The Independent obtained a copy of her letter, dated May 3 and addressed to Schulman. When contacted, however, the doctor declined to speak about her situation because of the pending EEO complaint.
In the letter, the doctor outlines an incident on May 1 where Lynch allegedly “berated” her about not agreeing with him on a letter he wrote about dealings at the Lompoc clinic, and told her she should think about leaving. “I was shocked and humiliated,” she wrote. She then went on to outline other similar conversations with Lynch, describing her work environment as “just too hostile.”
The doctor also wrote that in discussions with other female physicians, “it appears that this unprofessional and malignant management style is a pattern: If I had known that SB county tolerated this type of repeated humiliation and unprofessional behavior directed to female physicians, I would not have accepted this position.”