New York–Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in New York City is trying to throw out a pediatric resident who posted anti-Semitic remarks on social media, according to court records.
A court has ordered the hospital to keep Walid Khass, MD, in the residency and ordered St. George University to expunge its disciplinary action against him from its records. The hospital ― which serves a large Orthodox Jewish population, according to the publication Forward, has appealed. Both sides are scheduled to appear in virtual court on September 17, the publication reports.
The case raises questions about what constitutes appropriate remedies for a medical student’s hate speech, what information medical schools should share with residency programs, and whether residency programs are bound to their agreements through the National Resident Match Program when new information comes to light.
Neither the hospital nor the university responded to emails or phone calls from Medscape Medical News seeking comment. Through his attorney, Khass declined to comment as well.
In court documents, the hospital argues that “Dr. Khass is fundamentally unqualified and categorically unacceptable to be employed in the Program based on his documented history of hate speech directed at members of the patient population he would have to serve as a resident in the Program ― a history that he concealed from and which was unknown to the Program during the time he was under consideration for admission.”
In documents filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Kings County, Khass admits posting remarks from 2014 to 2017 in which he expressed himself “in the wrong way.”
He has since deleted these posts. According to the website Canary Mission, which documents anti-Semitism and criticisms of Israel, Khass’ posts included dozens of obscenity-laden remarks on Twitter and at least one on Instagram.
For example, on November 13, 2014, according to the website, Khass tweeted, “@Pali_dime Go Beat Up A Zionist, You’re Not You When You Don’t Beat Up A Zionist.”
And the website claims that on August 13, 2014, he tweeted: “These 108 American Jews Who Came To Support ISRAEL Are Gonna Get F**KED.”
The university and the hospital have also characterized the posts, which included the use of the word “pussy,” as being “anti-gay.”
Writing to Khaas, a university administrator speculated that it would be difficult to apologize without offending his “community,” and he told Khass he should withdraw from the school to pursue his medical career “in a country where your past statements would not present a barrier to you practicing medicine.”
Khass, whose parents immigrated from Palestine, says that he made the posts after two relatives were killed by Israeli rockets in Gaza.
“The posts were meant to express frustration with Israeli policy and were not meant to offend anyone,” he wrote in an affidavit. He deleted the posts after they were publicized by Canary Mission and an Israeli blog, and he apologized to the university.
The university suspended Khass for 3 months and required him to write an apology and attend sensitivity training. It lowered his academic ranking from “very good” to “good” and prevented him from attending the graduation ceremony of his class.
“Courts have recognized that in the context of medical education, a student’s offensive social media posts are closely related to their academic performance, since they can impact patient care,” the university said in one of the memoranda it filed with the court.
Khass wrote the apology and attended the sensitivity training. But in court, Khass was able to reverse the change in his ranking and have his leave of absence expunged from his record. He was able to complete medical school in time to obtain a residency match with New York–Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist, which pays $70,000 a year.
But in March 2019, the hospital claims it learned about the offensive social media posts from another “concerned applicant who had, along with Dr Khass, matched with the Program.”
The hospital now argues that Khass and the university misled it by not disclosing the social media posts prior to the beginning of the match process and that it would never have admitted him had it been aware of them. It has obtained a waiver from the National Resident Match Program that releases it from its obligation to employ Khass.
Khass is taking legal action against the university, asking that damages be awarded for emotional suffering and breach of contract.
As reported earlier this year, a first-year resident lost her license to practice medicine in Ohio after her anti-Semitic tweets led to her dismissal from the Cleveland Clinic.
Laird Harrison writes about science, health and culture. His work has appeared in national magazines, in newspapers, on public radio and on websites. He is at work on a novel about alternate realities in physics. Harrison teaches writing at the Writers Grotto. Visit him at lairdharrison.com or follow him on Twitter: @LairdH.