Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The District’s medical examiner will not return to his post after being placed on administrative leave following charges of mismanagement and sexual discrimination in his office, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday.

Dr. Jonathan Arden was suspended with pay on Monday. His office management is the subject of a critical report that the D.C. Inspector General’s Office released Tuesday.

Mr. Williams yesterday would not say whether Dr. Arden, who earns $165,000 a year, would resign or be fired.

“I think it’s obvious that we are looking in a new direction for a medical examiner,” Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Williams declined to discuss the inspector general’s findings of mismanagement or charges of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment made by five female deputy medical examiners. The mayor said he had talked with Dr. Arden about the need for a change in leadership in the agency.

An attorney for the five women said they asked the inspector general to investigate Dr. Arden in November.

David Marshall, an attorney with Bernabei & Katz law firm, said he filed sexual harassment and discrimination complaints against Dr. Arden, 49, with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Tuesday on the women’s behalf.

The women — Drs. Sarah Colvin, Constance DiAngelo, Gertrude Juste, Marie Pierre-Louis and Lois Goslinoski — plan to testify at a scheduled D.C. Council Judiciary Committee oversight hearing today on the operations of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The Washington Times has obtained a draft copy of the women’s statement to the council. The women accuse Dr. Arden of ridiculing and intimidating them, and challenging their conclusions on cases while offering no such treatment to his male subordinates.

They also claim that Dr. Arden hired unqualified acquaintances for staff positions, permitted unsafe working conditions in laboratories and failed to issue regulations and guidelines.

They also say he routinely overrode the objections of Muslim families who did not want autopsies performed on their loved ones for religious reasons when the cause of death was obvious, while he granted such requests made by Jewish families.

Dr. Arden, who is Jewish, could not be reached yesterday and the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Marshall hailed Dr. Arden’s departure but did not rule out filing a lawsuit against the city on behalf of his clients.

In June, an investigator with the D.C. Office of Corporation Counsel upheld the women’s claims of sexual harassment and intimidation. Investigators with the Corporation Counsel’s Office also found evidence of racial discrimination in the training of black students and residents.

The inspector general’s findings were first reported Tuesday in The Washington Post.

D.C. officials hired Dr. Arden in April 1998 to reform the city’s morgue and coroner’s office.

Dr. Arden, formerly a first deputy chief medical examiner in New York, led 46 full-time workers, though his office is budgeted to employ 76. Among the vacant positions is the deputy chief medical examiner, whose position has been unfilled for 18 months.

The office’s budget has grown from $3.3 million in 1998 to $6 million this year. Dr. Arden has been faulted for high employee turnover and other staffing problems. In June, the city’s risk-management office found unhealthy working conditions in the office’s histology lab, where specimen slides are processed, and shut down the lab.

The medical examiner’s office has a backlog of about 1,300 unfinished autopsy reports, some of them dating back to 1999. The unfinished work includes about 700 death certificates lacking a final determination of death, according to a May 2003 oversight report by the Judiciary Committee.

• Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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