Courtesy of Yale University
Bandy Lee MED ’94 DIV ’95, a formerly Yale-affiliated faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry in School of Medicine, filed a complaint against the University on Monday alleging “unlawful termination… due to her exercise of free speech about the dangers of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
University spokesperson Karen Peart declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Yale was the only named defendant.
Lee’s complaint alleges that Yale fired her in response to a January 2020 tweet that characterized “just about all” of former president Donald Trump’s supporters as suffering from “shared psychosis” and said that Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer on Trump’s legal team, had “wholly taken on Trump’s symptoms by contagion.” Dershowitz responded to the tweet with a letter to Yale administrators, in which he complained that Lee’s tweet constituted “a serious violation of the ethics rules of the American Psychiatric Association” and requested that she be disciplined.
The legal action listed five causes, including breach of contract, breach of good faith and wrongful termination.
“I have done this with a heavy heart, only because Yale refused all my requests for a discussion, much as the American Psychiatric Association has done,” Lee wrote in an email to the News. “I love Yale, my alma mater, as I love my country, but we are falling into a dangerous culture of self-censorship and compliance with authority at all cost.”
Robin Kallor LLP, the firm representing Lee in the action, wrote in a statement obtained by the News that Lee’s comments are “clearly protected by the First Amendment and Yale’s guarantees of academic freedom.”
According to court documents, after Dershowitz sent his letter on Jan. 11, chair of the Psychiatry Department John Krystal MED ’84 warned Lee via an email that the department “would be compelled to ‘terminate [her] teaching role’” if she continued to make similar public statements. She continued to tweet about the mental fitness of Trump even after Krystal’s warning. Lee then met with Krystal and additional unnamed faculty members and was told that she “breached psychiatric ethics,” according to an email excerpt in the filing. According to court documents, Yale refused to hold additional discussions or investigate the accusations further. On May 17, 2020, Lee was notified that she was terminated. She appealed the decision multiple times in August and September, to no avail.
Krystal wrote to Lee in a Sept. 4 letter included in the court filing that the department’s main consideration in the termination was her “clinical judgement and professionalism” after she publicly stated her “diagnostic impressions” of Trump and other public figures. Krystal emphasized in the letter that the termination “was not because of the political content” of her statements.
“Although the committee does not doubt that you are acting on the basis of your personal moral code,” the letter read, “your repeated violations of the APA’s Goldwater Rule and your inappropriate transfer of the duty to warn from the treatment setting to national politics raised significant doubts about your understanding of crucial ethical and legal principles in psychiatry.”
The American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater Rule states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to comment on a public figure’s mental faculties in an official capacity unless granted permission or after a medical examination.
Lee also considers the Goldwater Rule — which the APA clarified in 2017 prohibits member psychiatrists from giving professional opinions about the mental state of someone they have not personally evaluated — a “gag order,” according to court documents. Her complaint states that she believes the rule goes against her role as a psychiatrist “in light of her belief that Donald Trump posed a dangerous threat to this country and the world.” Lee has not been a member of the American Psychiatric Association since 2007.
Lee also claims in her complaint that she was not diagnosing Dershowitz, “but rather commenting on a widespread phenomenon of “shared psychosis.’”
In an email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart stated that Lee was a voluntary faculty member and that “Yale does not consider the political opinions of faculty members when making appointment decisions.” According to the action, which cited the University’s Faculty Handbook, voluntary faculty members are usually clinicians who “are employed outside of the [School of Medicine] but make significant contributions” to its medical center.
Dershowitz told the News that he was not aware of the lawsuit until contacted by another journalist for comment earlier in the day. He added that Yale never contacted him to follow up on his letter or on Lee’s termination in general.
“[Lee] credits me with getting her fired,” Dershowitz said. “I’m not that powerful. I am pleased with the fact that I brought to Yale’s attention the facts that demonstrate her deviation from professional norms. The facts are the facts, and Yale acted on the documented facts, not on my opinion.”
Lee has requested reinstatement and compensation for damages, which include “economic losses” and “emotional distress.”
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Correction, Mar. 23: An earlier version of this story said that Lee had an affiliation with the Yale Law School. In fact, she was only affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine, according to Peart. The story has been updated.
Clarification, Mar. 23: An earlier version of this story did not specify that Lee’s tweet about Trump and Dershowitz was posted in January 2020. The story has been updated to clarify the timing of the tweet.