Former School of Medicine administrator sues University

A 63-year-old former Yale School of Medicine administrator is suing the University on the grounds that he was fired because of his age.

In a complaint filed in April at the United States District Court in New Haven, Martin Donovan claims the University decided he had reached retirement age and justified his March 2011 termination by fabricating missteps he made while an employee. Yale filed a denial of these claims on July 17, and last week Donovan requested a motion for additional time to respond. Donovan is seeking financial compensation from the University for multiple reasons, including loss of income, “loss of personal and professional reputation [and] severe emotional distress,” according to the filing.

“I think it was unfortunately short-sighted for the University to deal with Mr. Donovan in such a poor and shabby manner,” said William Palmieri, Donovan’s lawyer. “I think they lost out as much as Mr. Donovan lost out — they lost out on an excellent employee and Mr. Donovan lost out on his rights and his career.”

Donovan worked for 32 years in the Yale-New Haven Medical Center, serving the first 20 years at Yale New-Haven Hospital and the final 12 at the School of Medicine. Most recently, Donovan served as the director of finance for the Yale Medical Group and as an administrator for the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

The complaint states Donovan received consistently “excellent” performance reviews, and he was “shocked and alarmed” in May 2010 when, in separate meetings, Assistant Dean for Finance Carrie Capezzone and Deputy Dean for Finance and Administration Cynthia Walker ’78 asked him about his plans to retire. Donovan told both superiors he had no plans to retire and had never mentioned such intentions.

After these two meetings, Palmieri said, the University began falsely claiming that Donovan had committed various errors on the job. These alleged errors included causing the premature departure of a physician, failing to investigate charges that staff were distributing the business cards of a former physician, failing to implement an adjustment to the fee schedule and permitting a co-worker to leave early every day, according to Donovan’s complaint. The court document states that all of these assertions are unfounded.

“A representative of the University determined that this man had reached the age that it was time for him to retire,” Palmieri said. “They knew that they had done wrong, and the only way that they were going to address having done wrong in this particular case was to find pretextual reasons to cover up for their behavior.”

In August 2010, Donovan received a written warning demoting him and stating that he would be fired at the end of November 2010.

According to Donovan’s complaint, the University lengthened his employment by four months because of the “excellence” of his work. Palmieri said this contradictory extension of employment based on performance contradicts and undermines the University’s purported reason for his ultimate firing on March 31, 2011.

In a written statement to the News Sunday evening, University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale denies Donovan’s accusation.

“The University does not believe the claim has any merit and will defend the lawsuit,” he said.

Donovan could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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