Fayette County

Piñata, slurs used to harass Mexican-born surgeon, and UK didn’t stop it, lawsuit says.

Dr. Alberto de Hoyos
Dr. Alberto de Hoyos University of Kentucky

Medical residents at the University of Kentucky were told to hit a piñata in the shape of a bull as part of the harassment directed toward a Mexican-born surgeon, according to a lawsuit filed in Fayette Circuit Court.

Dr. Alberto de Hoyos, a former professor of cardiothoracic surgery, alleged in a suit filed Monday that UK “did nothing to stop” the harassing conduct based on his national origin.

Dr. de Hoyos claimed in the suit that another physician, identified in the suit as Dr. Angela Mahan, allegedly referred to the piñata and to Dr. de Hoyos as “el toro” (the bull) and “el toro loco (the crazy bull).”

De Hoyos is suing UK but not Mahan, who is no longer at the university, according to the department. A suit gives only one side of a dispute.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Tuesday that the university has not received the complaint.

“The university will response to the lawsuit at the appropriate time and in an appropriate manner,” Blanton said in an email.

The suit said that immediately after de Hoyos began work at UK in 2016, Mahan began “a campaign of harassment based on his national origin.” (A release from the UK Department of Surgery said de Hoyos was “officially welcomed” to the faculty on Dec. 1, 2015.)

The harassment included calling de Hoyos pejorative names and advising cardiothoracic residents not to work with him, the complaint said. Mahan told others that de Hoyos “was an incompetent surgeon and advised other physicians to refrain from referring patients to him,” according to the lawsuit.

“Dr. Mahan made these comments, which employees throughout the cardiothoracic department heard on a near daily basis,” the suit says. “Although multiple people complained about the piñata, it remained in the cardiothoracic residents’ office for nine months.”

The complaint alleged that Dr. Sibu Saha, chief of cardiothoracic surgery, “did nothing to stop this harassment despite knowing about it. He even defended Dr. Mahan’s harassment.”

The suit said de Hoyos complained to others about the harassment, including Patty Bender, interim associate vice president of institutional equity; Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger, cardiothoracic department chair; Dr. Robert DiPaola, dean of the college of medicine; and Dr. Katherine McKinney, assistant dean of graduate medical education.

“Despite these complaints, nobody took any action to stop” Mahan’s conduct, the complaint said.

The “routine use of slurs” created an “intimidating, hostile and offensive workplace,” and de Hoyos resigned in September 2016. The suit said he “experienced substantial financial losses and emotional distress.” He also claimed the university violated the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

Dr. de Hoyos now lives in Dallas. While at UK, de Hoyos was part of the thoracic oncology team at the Markey Cancer Center, according to a release from the College of Medicine. He treated lung and esophageal cancers and various tumors, with specialties in minimally invasive and robotic surgery.

The suit seeks damages and “equitable relief, including reinstatement.”