Lawsuit Against Mount Sinai Medical School Alleges a Toxic Culture for Women

When the dean of Mount Sinai’s medical school, Dennis Charney, was searching for a director for the hospital’s newly announced global health institute, a search committee recommended Steffanie Strathdee, a much-lauded epidemiologist who is now an associate dean at the University of California, San Diego.

Charney, however, went in a different direction. Namely, the then-32-year-old Prabhjot Singh, who at that time, still hadn’t completed his residency program at Mount Sinai. Now, a lawsuit aimed at Charney and the Arnhold Institute for Global Health (AIGH) describes a toxic work culture that the plaintiffs say manifested under Singh, and alleges that the dean cast aside many of the older women employees who had worked to make AIGH successful.

The lawsuit comes from seven former and current female AIGH employees, and one former male employee. At the time Charney hired Singh to lead AIGH, the suit points out, he lacked many of the most basic qualifications typically expected of an institute director. From Forbes:

Residents have relatively little experience conducting research as an independent scientist and faculty member, building research programs, and successfully serving as a principal investigator for major grants. The lawsuit document indicated that Singh’s “CV at the time showed very few publications, and none contained original global health research—he wrote mostly opinion pieces,” and “Singh also had no federal grants.”

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Under Singh, the plaintiffs allege, AIGH turned into a toxic workplace for women. Singh held “weird staring contests” with women in meetings, “evidently trying to intimidate his female subordinates,” according to Forbes recounting of the lawsuit, his chief of staff routinely yelled at women in the office so loudly that everyone could hear. A third defendant, a man named Bruno Silva, hired by Singh, reportedly told one woman she “look[ed] slutty” and mocked the male plaintiff in the suit—a Pakistani Muslim man named Humale Khan—for taking prayer breaks. Per Forbes:

He also frequently said that Khan smelled bad, saying ‘it smells like [bleep] in here,” or “it smells like curry” in Khan’s office. These comments made Khan deeply self-conscious. He became anxious about smelling bad and started buying and applying multiple deodorants and chewing gum excessively.

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In a press release, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said Singh wanted to create a “tech bro” culture at AIGH and essentially pushed out omen who held senior roles:

Dr. Singh spoke of running AIGH as a start-up and seemed determined to replicate Silicon Valley’s tech- bro culture. Normal recruitment was disregarded in favor of Dr. Singh directly hiring largely younger, male friends and contacts, despite their lack of experience in global health. [...] This was not just a normal office disagreement about goals or methods; Dr. Singh publicly disparaged the competence of women in senior leadership and made their working lives miserable until they were finally forced out.

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On May 9, Cati Crawford, a former medical student, spoke at the Mount Sinai medical school’s graduation and referenced the lawsuit, calling out the institution for “outwardly claim[ing] a commitment to equity and social justice,” while Singh reportedly discriminated against older women employees. “Time’s up,” Crawford said, “Show us that you care.”

You can hear Crawford’s comments around the 5:30 mark above.

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