Viral controversy: Duke Health abandons merit for DEI when picking surgeons

By David Larson

Durham, NC – Going viral in the context of a hospital is almost never a good thing. And this week Duke Health and its medical school went viral in a way that certainly made a few administrators sick to their stomachs, as the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro revealed disturbing DEI-related policies at the North Carolina health provider.

Emergency and Trauma Center at Duke University Hospital in Durham NC. (Photo Creative Commons by Ildar Sagdejev)

One Duke surgical resident, Dr. Vignesh Raman, gave a presentation, which has since been pulled from the Duke Health website, where he discussed his feelings about having to treat people “in the South,” calling them “not VIP,” and saying his “heart sinks” when he considers that many of them might watch FOX News or support Donald Trump. Despite his apparent contempt for many of those he’s paid to care for, he did say it wasn’t all bad, because the community is “majority non-white, and its wonderful to treat such a diverse group of people.”

Shapiro found the open animosity by health providers towards conservatives elsewhere in North Carolina too, like the Wake Forest Medical School, where Kychelle Del Rosario was allowed to graduate after, seemingly, admitting to sticking a patient more than once on a blood draw because of the patient’s reaction to her she/her “pronoun pin.”

Raman revealed that this attitude also affects how his fellow left-wing providers at Duke choose who makes up the surgical team, saying that after George Floyd’s death in 2020, they realized “something should change within ourselves and in who comprises this department, in terms of the faculty, in terms of the residents.”

Raman then said, “The most important thing we’ve done is, really, systemic changes to our recruitment, to try to recruit diverse residents to our program and then to retain and support those diverse residents… So part of this has involved transitioning to completely holistic review process that we spoke about earlier today — you know, abandoning all sorts of metrics and screens, looking at people’s life story and what brought them into surgery. And the other part of it is increasing the diversity of the people who read the application, because that’s an important component of ensuring that we get diverse residents into our program.”

Reading this, I was struck by just how… illegal that sounded. I’m not a lawyer, but I have heard of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination based on various protected classes — like race, religion, and sex. Title VII of this law specifically bans making employment decisions based on these characteristics. Openly saying something like, “We want fewer employees of this race and this gender and more of that race and that gender” is about as blatant a violation as I can imagine.

So I said as much on Twitter, and tagged my old boss, Dan Bishop, who is currently a US congressman running for state attorney general. I was curious how he’d treat cases like this if it became his responsibility to enforce the laws in our state.

And he responded, quickly and firmly, saying, “The law on this is very clear, and it will be enforced” if he is elected. That is one issue among many, so I’m not recommending any particular candidate in that race, or any race.

Then, the original author of the article, Ben Shapiro, responded to Bishop, saying that Duke Medical School had taken down the videos in question, but that it was futile since the Daily Wire had made copies. Twitter owner Elon Musk chimed in on the thread too, saying, “People will die because of this.” (This is why, despite my best efforts to reduce Twitter time, I always come back — because sometimes you get to mix it up with people like Elon Musk, Ben Shapiro, and a congressman.)

But back to the main point on Title VII, there is an entire federal bureaucracy called the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that is tasked with making sure this is followed. This is there to protect citizens from being discriminated regarding these protected classes (race, religion, sex, etc) — and with good reason, since Jim Crow was accepted practice across the South before this became law.

But even though the original motivation was to stop discrimination against black citizens by white ones, it was not worded in a way to limit it to that particular circumstance. If an Asian Muslim woman discriminates against a Native American pagan man or a Polynesian Jewish man discriminates against a Micronesian atheist woman, and the reasoning for the discrimination is clearly because of these categories, then it’s a violation.

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing a huge “except for the white guys” clause, I tried to find something that would in any way justify this kind of overt discrimination based on race and gender when directed at this particular demographic. If it exists, that would be very relevant information for me personally to know going forward in my life. But I found no such asterisk.

In fact, I found a recent 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals case, Groves v. South Bend Community School Corp., that operated on the opposite assumption. The court determined that the white athletics coach hadn’t been discriminated against when a black colleague was chosen for a promotion over him, but the reasoning for ruling against Groves was that he didn’t prove his case, not because it was okay to discriminate against white guys.

“In the end, Groves’s case suffered from a failure of proof—he alleged a theory and account of reverse race discrimination but ultimately never backed it with enough evidence to allow a jury to find in his favor,” the court determined.

Jackson Lewis, a law firm with offices across the country, including in Raleigh, did a breakdown of the important case. One of their key takeaways was that “Title VII does not pick favorites — the protection of ‘race’ applies equally to all races, including whites.”

Could the understanding of Civil Rights law have changed that much since 2022? It’s not just Duke School of Medicine that appears to think so. As I pointed out in a recent post, after the George Floyd-inspired protests of 2020 (the same justification given by Duke), many of the largest companies on Wall Street essentially put a hiring freeze on white people. Under intense pressure from activists, of their next 300,000 hires, 94% of them were minorities (in a country where probably around 70% of working-age adults are white).

Like with Duke’s surgeons, white males were being explicitly excluded, by design. If this happened to literally any other demographic, there would be countless justifiable lawsuits in response. And guess what? White guys can sue too.

In 2021, the same year that companies and organizations across the nation were purposefully firing and not hiring white guys, one North Carolina executive fought back and won a $10 million settlement.

A CBS News story from the time described the situation, saying, the man, David Duvall, Novant’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, was allegedly fired “without warning or cause as part of an intentional campaign to promote diversity in its management ranks; a campaign [Novant] has boasted about publicly.” 

Novant then replaced him with a black woman and a white woman in order to reach diversity goals. His lawsuit alleges they also fired five other white men that year and replaced them with women and minorities in pursuit of these goals. Duvall was able to convince the jury, based on his evidence, that the reason for his termination was directly linked to his race and gender.

If there were any Duke Health employees who were fired, or prospective employees not hired, for similar reasons, there easily could be lawsuits there as well. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of treatment.

One of the saddest parts of this for me was reading comments underneath my post and those of Shapiro and Bishop. Many people, white and otherwise, were saying they were afraid to go to the hospital now and would avoid minority health providers because they were likely let in with lower qualifications.

Please don’t take this attitude. It is not that doctor’s fault that they were chosen over other doctors, and they still had to go to medical school and get training in their specialty. There is no indication that these providers are not qualified to be doctors. But the impulse by many of those reading the story to avoid minority doctors does show the damage that policies like this can cause. Pitting one race against another brings us backwards rather than towards the merit-based, colorblind society that most Americans want.


David Larson is opinion editor of Carolina Journal.