Colorectal surgeon Dr. Deborah Keller is suing New York Presbyterian Hospital after being “interrogated” by administrators about her sex life. She had just removed a “large foreign object” from a patient’s rectum, but instead of being rewarded for doing her job, she was placed on administrative leave. She also claims the facility asked whether she was sleeping with one of her colleagues and circulated photos of the patient, thus violating his privacy.
According to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court, the patient arrived at the hospital in February 2020 with an unidentified object in his anus. Keller, 41, was called in multiple times to extract the object from the patient’s body.
After successfully completing the operation, Keller claimed she was put on administrative leave. During the interrogation, she says her supervisors sexualized the object she removed from the patient’s body by referring to it as a “dildo”. She adds that they also asked her whether she was sleeping with Mark Kiely, the male doctor in charge of the patient’s case.
Keller said the inquisition by the hospital’s internal hearing committee was “demeaning and embarrassing,” according to the suit. She added that the doctors “don’t really know” what the “massive” missile-shaped item was.
“They kept using inappropriate terms for the foreign [object], it was just getting contentious and questions that just didn’t have anything to do with the practice of medicine or patient care or colorectal surgery, making what I do seem like a joke,” said Keller.
She said that the committee asked if she took pictures of the object in question after the procedure. She replied that she was still prepped for surgery and not taking pictures.
The suit said that Kiely had obtained permission to take photos of the foreign object for educational purposes. He then called Keller for help “due to her recognized expertise,” she wrote.
When they asked Keller whether she was sleeping with Kiely, she said no. The suit said Kiely wasn’t questioned about their relationship. He was placed on administrative leave but later reinstalled.
She admitted to sending a picture of the object to a surgical resident who struggled to remove it in the emergency room, but only to show them that it was too large to remove without operating.
Keller is the only woman involved in the case and the only one to lose their job. She claimed in the suit that she was facing retaliation after complaining of gender discrimination in the workplace. She filed the complaint against New York Presbyterian Chief of Colorectal Surgery Pokala Ravi Kiran.
She claimed that Kiran’s “relentless sexism” included comments about her body and appearance, private trips to his office, and diverting patients to male colleagues. She also alleged that Kiran sabotaged a prestigious National Institutes of Health research grant that she won.
She added that Kiran referred to her as “a problem, emotional, not someone to work with,” according to the lawsuit.
Keller’s contract with the hospital was set to expire before the incident occurred. However, she said that her administrators submitted false paperwork about the procedure to the National Practitioner Data Bank. This put a “black mark” on her reputation, which made it impossible for her to get a new job.
“They are literally trying to ruin my career,” she said.
Keller now works as a researcher and assistant professor in California. But her career as a colorectal surgeon may never recover.
“It’s vicious in a way that we very rarely see,” said George Vallas, Keller’s attorney.
Administrators for the hospital could not be reached for comment.