UCSD ophthalmology dept. chief accused of bullying and more in lawsuit

Robert Weinreb, Cristiana Vasile, and Leah Levi
  • Robert Weinreb, Cristiana Vasile, and Leah Levi

It looks like federal court will be hearing a case centered around harassment charges at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California San Diego.

This month, Leah Levi, M.D., professor emerita in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCSD, filed a harassment suit in United States District Court against Robert Weinreb, M.D., chair and distinguished professor of the ophthalmology department. The regents of the University of California are also named in the suit.

The complaint states that Weinreb "has a personal animus toward women." The suit charges that UCSD has overlooked "Weinreb's bullying, intimidating, harassing, discriminatory, and retaliatory actions against UCSD employees." The suit charges that Weinreb "harassed, and discriminated and retaliated against [Levi] and other women in the Department of Ophthalmology."

There is one exception, according to the suit. Weinreb engaged in the alleged bullying "for the express purpose of advancing the career of Cristiana Vasile, M.D., a woman with whom he had a sexual relationship, and ultimately married, and who was and continues to be employed by UCSD under the direct and/or indirect supervision of her husband, Dr. Weinreb," according to the suit.

Weinreb mistreated women in the department, including Levi, "by bullying them, engaging in physically threatening behavior and speaking to them in a rude, hostile, and demeaning manner," charges the suit. Weinreb treats faculty males differently than he treats females, says the suit, charging that a number of whistleblower complaints have been filed against Weinreb for such activities. Weinreb targeted the residency program of which Levi was director, according to the suit. Levi was removed and replaced with a male director, according to the suit.

The suit charges that UCSD was aware of this activity but profited from its association with Weinreb.

As of this afternoon (October 30), there has been no response to Levi's allegations filed with the court. Neither UCSD nor Weinreb responded within the time frame I considered reasonable, but I will print their response — if there is one — among the comments.

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If the charges are proved to be true all the people involved and those who knew and did nothing should be fired.

AlexClarke: Firing those involved in the alleged harassment could be difficult. There is such a thing as tenure, although I know it doesn't apply in certain situations. Any firing would probably lead to another lawsuit. Best, Don Bauder

it would be interesting if after both sides tell their story, some video of incidents surface.

murphyjunk: I doubt that there is video footage, but it's possible. Best, Don Bauder

One would think in this day and age the well educated/informed would not participate in such behaviors, alas this isn't the case IF the allegations prove true. But what's more disturbing is the allegation of profit by management. If that allegation is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, treble damages AND termination for those who participated is warranted.

JustWondering: Weinreb's total compensation in 2013 was $1.38 million. It would seem that UCSD considers him valuable. Of course, we don't know if the charges against him can be proved. Best, Don Bauder

In the past two years, more or less, there have been many complaints and scandals involving UCSD. Most of them fly in the face of what a university is supposed to be all about, and appear to have gone on for many years. We all need to remember that UCSD is officially only fifty years old, and that all that growth has occurred in a blink compared to the histories of most other UC campuses and most other universities. It got off to a great start, although I doubt that pirating all those Nobel laureates away from other institutions with the lure of beach and the California "good life" had much to do with the sort of education that was offered to undergraduates.

Now it is becoming obvious that it grew in a most unruly way, with too little control from the top, or even awareness at the top of what was really happening. (There were two inept administrators who served as chancellor in particular, Atkinson and Dynes. Both had monied connections, and both went on to be UC president. In that role, their many deficiencies were paraded before the world.) No, the cement mixers beat out a steady staccato of progress, and the applicants flooded in as fast as they could be accommodated. All was well on Torrey Pines Mesa. But, now we are having some nasty stuff revealed, and the honeymoon with San Diego and La Jolla is ending on a sour note.

One particular booster of UCSD and all the wonderful things that flowed from there out upon the county was Neil Morgan. He couldn't say enough good things about the operation, whether they were true or just fanciful. (Remember that he loved Alan Bersin when he was superintendent of schools, too.)

I suspect that we will learn that many more things are amiss, and have long been amiss, at UCSD and especially within the medical center and medical school. These recent revelations are just the beginning folks.

Visduh: Atkinson and Dynes not only had monied connections. They had money. Atkinson had a huge pile of Qualcomm stock, for example.

One thing that may be amiss at UCSD is undergraduate education. The institution puts so much emphasis on research -- paying big bucks to land famed researchers who in turn bring in fat research contracts -- that undergraduate education gets ignored. Best, Don Bauder

Margie Wilson: The lawsuit mentions that the whistleblower complaints were filed but the university didn't follow through. The suit also mentions female employees such as yourself who were unhappy at what was going on. Best, Don Bauder

I hear now that Weinreb is trying to recruit female staff members to say how well they have been treated for damage control on the article. Unfortunately, if you still work there it is difficult to say anything negative for fear of retaliation. I also know of several previous employees who are now coming forward thanks to this article. Thank you Reader.

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