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The staff physician at the Federal Detention Center in Miami claims in a federal lawsuit that she was demoted and is being transferred to a prison camp assignment in rural Georgia in retaliation for speaking out against inhumane care of inmates. Dr. Mayra Delgado has asked a federal judge for a preliminary injunction blocking her transfer to a federal prison camp in Jesup, Ga., a town near Savannah, roughly 450 miles from Miami. In her suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Miami against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Delgado claimed that her free-speech rights under the First Amendment had been violated. She also alleges her boss violated the Family Medical Leave Act by demoting her on the day she returned from a stress-related medical leave. Delgado is seeking no money, only the injunction and legal fees. “We’re talking about our basic First Amendment rights,” said Delgado’s lawyer, Isidro Garcia, a partner at Garcia Elkins & Boehringer in West Palm Beach. “This woman was being coerced into giving phony testimony in court.” Defending the Bureau of Prisons, Kirk Ogrosky, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said in court Tuesday that the bureau “very much disagrees with that statement. This [complaint] belongs in an administrative proceeding.” Delgado was hired by the Bureau of Prisons in 1996 as a medical officer and later was promoted to clinical director. She said she received outstanding employment evaluations and numerous awards under the previous prison warden, Robert Haro. Delgado said her troubles began when the new warden, Monica Wetzel, took over. Delgado says in court documents that she began complaining in April 1998 about a shortage of doctors at the prison. She had protested that with all her administrative duties, she couldn’t properly care for the 1,500 prisoners under her charge. It wasn’t until several months later that an additional doctor was finally hired, she asserts. In January 2000, Delgado had one of many alleged run-ins with Mary Hulle, associate warden of operations. Delgado had refused to grant privileges to a physician assistant enabling him to work at the detention center, because she did not consider him qualified to oversee inmate medical care, according to the suit. Delgado says prison officials wanted to employ physician assistants rather than physicians to handle all patient care. Then, at a meeting held in February 2000, according to court documents, Delgado recommended that an inmate undergo open-heart surgery, which also was the recommendation of a cardiovascular surgeon at Cedars Medical Center Hospital in Miami. Regional Health Services Administrator Edward Gawrysiak, one of Delgado’s superiors, opposed the surgery, according to Delgado, saying that cardiovascular surgeons always elect surgery and that she needed to learn “how to ask the right questions.” Then in July, Delgado claims, she advised Hulle and Wetzel that she opposed housing an inmate on a hunger strike in an area where he could not be observed. But what really angered her bosses, Delgado claims in the suit, was her stand on an 80-year-old inmate named Forrest Tucker. Sometime around October 2000, according to the suit, Delgado was interviewed by two attorneys for the Federal Detention Center. They wanted to know what kind of testimony she would give if asked in court to provide her medical assessment of Tucker — specifically, her opinion on whether leaving Tucker in a solitary housing unit called a Special Housing Unit (SHU) would cause him undue stress. Tucker suffered from heart disease, seizures, kidney ailments and memory loss, and needed a walker following recent strokes. Delgado, who once found Tucker passed out on the floor and covered in his own feces, answered that she believed that continued placement in the solitary unit would hurt Tucker’s health. Hearing that, one of the lawyers told her, “We can’t use you,” according to the suit. They had Gawrysiak testify instead. Hulle was furious at Delgado over the Tucker incident, Delgado claims. “How can you say Tucker is under increased stress in SHU,” she said, according to court documents, adding, “I have more stress walking down the streets of Miami.” “You need to change your words in court,” and “be a team player,” Hulle said, adding that Delgado should not be saying things that are not in the best interests of the Bureau of Prisons. Hulle did not return calls from the Daily Business Review for comment. In December 2000, Delgado learned she was the subject of an administrative investigation. She was asked to sign an affidavit by the internal affairs department but refused, saying she wanted her attorney to review it first. She said Hulle told her if she did not sign, she would be charged with obstructing an investigation. That same day, Delgado reported experiencing chest pains at work and was taken to Cedars Medical Center Hospital by ambulance. She immediately took medical leave for a cardiac irregularity. She returned to work on Jan. 23 of this year. The day she returned, according to the court file, Delgado received a letter from Hulle stating that she was being removed from her position as clinical director and would be demoted to staff physician. She was given no reason for the demotion. On Feb. 20, Hulle gave Delgado a letter stating that she would be transferred to the federal prison camp in Jesup, effective March 25. Her new position would be medical officer, not clinical director. The stated reason for the demotion: “efficiency of the service.” Delgado asked for a one-month extension in order to make arrangements for her family and medical care. Garcia said Delgado is convinced that her bosses — knowing that she is caring for her sick parents and can’t relocate — demoted and transferred her to force her to quit. “If it comes down [to] her job or taking care of her sick parents, she’s going to have to quit,” Garcia said in court. “The bureau is well aware of her personal circumstances. They know they can’t fire her; they don’t have grounds.” At the status hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said he would rule by April 26 on the Bureau of Prisons’ motion to dismiss the case, and then proceed to the question of a preliminary injunction. But he also urged Delgado to pursue the case through two other avenues: with the bureau’s Office of Special Counsel and an administrative law judge. Garcia said Delgado would but insisted that the federal court was the place for a lawsuit dealing with important issues of free speech and retaliation against whistleblowers. In addition, he said the other legal channels can only be pursued after a person has been fired or transferred, not before. “The facts are very troubling, but before we get into the interesting issues here, there is the issue over whether I have jurisdiction over this,” said Moreno. Moreno indicated that he was not particularly sympathetic to Delgado’s refusal to be transferred. “I love Miami and I understand why she doesn’t want to move, but there is a mobility requirement with federal jobs,” he said. Moreno then asked Ogrosky: “Why is she being transferred?” Ogrosky responded that “management thinks she’s a good employee but they firmly believe she needs to be reassigned to Georgia.” Moreno asked whether the bureau could grant Delgado another month’s extension before transferring her. Ogrosky said he would check and let Moreno know immediately. “If there is a tremendous understaffing of doctors here, then I find it inconceivable that they can’t fit her into a staff position in the meantime,” Moreno said.

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