Black Doc Sues UCLA, Cites Racist Treatment

A lawyer for the doctor at the center of the "gorilla slide" viral video spoke with The Root.


Head says the school ignored his requests to address the incident and convinced him that pushing to have his allegations of racism addressed would put his career on the line.

Heeding that warning, he let the issue go until after he was tenured, but when he did readdress it, he reports that things only got worse: His complaint details receiving paychecks for amounts less than a dollar, teaching opportunities denied, deliberate attempts to sabotage his medical career, plus discrimination, harassment and retaliation that all continue, he and his attorneys claim, to this day.   

The Root reached out to the UCLA Head and Neck Clinic, where defendants Gerald Berke and Marilene Wang work alongside Head as physicians specializing in otolaryngology, as well as the university’s media-relations office and chancellor’s office. All offices contacted declined to comment beyond the university’s official statement on the case, condemning the behavior described in the complaint but saying, “UCLA has formal grievance and disciplinary procedures that afford appropriate due process review of any complaints of discrimination or mistreatment. Dr. Christian Head and his attorney were repeatedly advised of these procedures and encouraged to utilize them. They chose not to do so.” (Read the full statement here.) To that, Head’s attorney Shannon Foley responds that the university’s procedures “proved not to be trustworthy.”

The complaint, filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, details the allegations, but according to Foley, the case is simple. In her words, “It’s about a very reputable doctor who has been punished for reporting what he believed was discrimination and harassment to his boss, to management, to the chancellors and to the regent, and who has been retaliated against beyond measure since then.”  

The Root talked to Foley about the “intolerable” atmosphere that she says Head continues to face at UCLA, the outpouring of support from the black UCLA community and what’s next in the courtroom and in her client’s career.

The Root: The “gorilla slide,” as it’s called in Dr. Head’s complaint, is the most talked-about aspect of this case. Can you put it in the context of his entire experience at UCLA?