Facing a legal complaint alleging retaliation on the part of Richard Lifton, professor and chair of genetics at the School of Medicine, Yale faculty and administrators are prepared to fight what they consider to be a “frivolous” complaint.
The Oct. 24, 2014 complaint states that Syed Rafi, who was employed as a lab technologist at Yale from August 2001 to March 2003, has been unable to find employment in clinical cytogenetics despite submitting what the complaint claims amounted to over 70 job applications. The complaint alleges that Lifton told other institutions not to hire Rafi — an act the complaint claims was part of persistant acts of retaliation.
University officials and medical school faculty said the complaint has no merit.
“This lawsuit could not be more frivolous or more unfair to Professor Lifton and the School of Medicine,” said University Spokesman Tom Conroy. “If and when the complaint is served, Yale will promptly seek its dismissal and has every expectation of success.”
Rafi worked as a lab technologist at the school for 19 months under the supervision of Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor of cytogenetics. In the complaint, Rafi claims that Qumsiyeh was unfairly fired from the school for imposing his religious and pro-Palestine political views on others and creating an uncomfortable and disruptive working environment. According to the complaint, Rafi wanted to leave Yale, but Lifton retained him in hopes of using him as a defensive witness in the event that Qumsiyeh decided to file a lawsuit against the school for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination.
The complaint alleges that Lifton coerced Rafi into writing a confidential report — which is included in the complaint — in favor of Qumsiyeh’s removal in 2003.
But according to Tian Xu GRD ’90, professor and vice chairman of genetics at the School of Medicine, Qumsiyeh was not fired. Rather, he was not promoted to a higher ranking professorship elsewhere and so left the school, Xu said. Maurice Mahoney, a professor of genetics at the medical school who knew Qumisiyeh but not Rafi, also expressed skepticism regarding Rafi’s allegations against Lifton, saying that Rafi’s 2003 confidential report does not seem logically sound.
In a Monday email to the News, Qumsiyeh denied the allegations made against him in the statement written by Rafi in 2003, adding that he did know of its existence before being contacted by the News.
“The allegations about my personal and professional character and conduct are lies and very bizarre,” Qumsiyeh wrote, adding that he will consult lawyers and friends about pursuing a legal remedy for what he considers to be defamation.
Mahoney, who had spoken with Qumsiyeh about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasized that he did not see Qumsiyeh as someone who would make others uncomfortable or who would be unable to supervise someone with different ideas from him.
“I saw him as someone who wanted to educate people,” Mahoney said.
Several faculty members in the Genetics Department, many of whom did not know the complaint had been filed, were quick to refute Rafi’s claim that Lifton was racially biased or retaliatory in his dealings with others.
Haifan Lin, professor at the School of Medicine and director of the Yale Stem Cell Center who has known Lifton since joining the University in 2006, said Lifton is a fair and sensitive leader. Lin explained that through his meetings with Lifton, he has found that Lifton cares about the well-being of minority members of the Yale community. Murat Gunel, a professor at the medical school who co-directs the Yale Program on Neurogenetics and directs neurovascular surgery, said he was surprised to learn that someone would accuse Lifton of racial discrimination.
Conroy said the complaint makes neither factual nor legal sense, adding that Lifton did not hire or supervise Rafi, and therefore, Lifton would not have been able to fire Rafi. Conroy also said Lifton did not discuss Rafi’s suitability for employment with anyone at other institutions and that he has never attempted to interfere with his employment prospects. Xu agreed that Lifton had nothing to do with Rafi’s exit from Yale.
Conroy also raised concerns about the legal basis for the complaint. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already reviewed Rafi’s claims and has found that Lifton committed no legal violations, Conroy said. Furthermore, since the complaint has not yet been served to Yale’s lawyers, the University is not yet able to file an official response.
According to a Motion for Appointment of Counsel, dated April 7, 2015, Rafi’s request for a court appointed attorney has been rejected.
Mahoney, who has a law degree and has read the complaint, said the complaint and the confidential report about Qumsiyeh that Rafiwrote are “in many places, confused to purpose and to related facts and opinions.”
He also expressed doubt that Lifton’s behavior resulted in the alleged lost opportunities for employment that are noted in Rafi’s legal complaint.
“I do not believe that Professor Lifton would have done what he was accused of. I hope the truth will prevail,” Lin wrote in a Monday email.
Lifton has been chair of the Department of Genetics since 1998.