Distaff Is Restless

A resident gets cut from Maricopa Medical Center's surgical training program. She says it's discrimination. It's just the latest problem facing the center's taxpayer-funded contractor, Medpro.

Placing Cynkutis-Simon on "clinical concern" (an informal level of probationary action which is not required to be reported to the state's Board of Medical Examiners), the committee required her to meet regularly with her faculty adviser, in addition to the counseling. "Failure to improve your performance will result in disciplinary action," the memo warns.

Throughout May, June and July, Cynkutis-Simon wrote memos to her superiors at MMC, trying to schedule meetings to discuss her status. She says her efforts were unsuccessful.

Finally, after several months, Cynkutis-Simon was told in an August 27 memo that, in order to finish the year, she'd have to go to the Mayo Clinic for a gastrointestinal rotation.

That was impossible and MedPro knew it, the Simons say, because on June 20, the Mayo Clinic had already told MedPro it didn't want Cynkutis-Simon there because of concerns about her performance.

Cynkutis-Simon was told she'd have to convince Mayo to change its mind by September 15 if she wanted to finish the 1997-98 year. If she couldn't, she'd be fired. And no matter what, she would not be coming back for the 1998-99 year. The committee voted to terminate her contract after 1997.

"They just kept putting the goalposts back further and further," Robert Simon says of the process. "Every time she'd meet something they wanted her to do, they'd just say, 'Okay, now you have to do this.'"

Still, as MedPro was writing memos expressing concern about Cynkutis-Simon's competence, she was given more responsibility as chief resident of the burn unit.

"[This is] one of the things I'm proudest of about my wife," Robert Simon says. "There she was, running the most difficult, most intensive care unit in county by herself, knowing they're just waiting to see something she screwed up. Yet, all that time, she kept her cool."

A petition on Cynkutis-Simon's behalf was also circulated by the burn-unit nurses, who urged the hospital to keep her.

Before being fired, Cynkutis-Simon requested a grievance hearing from Frank Alvarez, the CEO of the county hospital. She also wrote to the County Attorney's Office. No hearing was held, and the only response from the County Attorney's Office has been that it will be defending MedPro against Cynkutis-Simon.

MedPro referred all questions to Michael Green, the outside counsel hired by the county to represent the physicians' group in this matter. Green declined to comment.

"The bottom line is, no one here is willing to talk to you on the issues . . . ," Bob Milligan, MedPro's private attorney, says.

Cynkutis-Simon feels she's left with only one option: sue, or give up her medical career.

She says she's not about to give up. "I don't take any crap from anybody," she says. "I say what I think. If I think somebody's full of it, well, then, I tell them."

Even as Cynkutis-Simon was being watched and criticized by her evaluators, another investigation was taking a parallel track. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office was looking into complaints of sexual discrimination against female residents.

In fact, Cynkutis-Simon believes her complaints of discrimination and her support of other women residents are the real reason for her troubles.

One of those residents who complained wrote a letter on February 27 to then-program director Dr. Terry Simpson about her problems.

"We also discussed the issue of discrimination I have been subjected to since I started the program," Dr. Isabelle Simoneau, who has since left the program, wrote. "It is clear to me that this influenced the whole course of my internship and caused non-reversible damage to my reputation. I strongly believe that co-workers' attitudes towards me were guided by prejudice as a result of early discrimination."

(Simoneau has since moved out of state and could not be reached for comment. Simpson, now in private practice, declined comment on his employment at MedPro.)

Cynkutis-Simon says she supported the allegations made by others at a special staff meeting in February with Beverly Rowley, the academic-affairs director.

Secretary of State Betsey Bayless--then still a county supervisor--recalls that Dr. Simpson came to her with the concerns of female residents in the program.

"Terry Simpson came to see me, and said, 'I would like to have a couple of female residents come and see you,' and I said, 'What about?' and he said, 'Sexual harassment,'" she recalls. "[I told him] it's inappropriate for me to meet with any residents, but I think that the appropriate place for this to go [is] to the County Attorney's Office."

Bayless referred the matter to County Attorney Rick Romley. Cynkutis-Simon was the only female resident to come forward to the County Attorney's Office. Simoneau transferred out of the program, and the other female resident apparently dropped her complaint.

After meeting with Cynkutis-Simon, Romley sent the matter on to his civil division for investigation.

Bayless also gave a heads-up to Alvarez, the hospital CEO, about the problems brewing with the female residents' complaints of sexual discrimination.

When Cynkutis-Simon was ordered to seek counseling--while the investigation was ongoing--Robert Simon wrote a memo to Maricopa County Human Resources protesting Magda's treatment and charging retaliation.

"This requirement is not imposed on male residents with similar or worse 'attitudes,'" Simon wrote. "This requirement was imposed after my wife testified in support of the sexual discrimination claims of two other female residents."

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