Doctor Fights Institutionalized Racism at CDCR
by Dianne Anderson
Over the past 41 years that Dr. Vicki Mabry-Height has been practicing medicine, she’s seen her share of discrimination, but she decided that it was about time to stand up.
That was 12 long years ago.
Since then, Mabry-Height’s discrimination court case has dragged through the endless twists and turns of the court system while she awaits her $249,000 a year back pay, including reimbursement for benefits and legal costs owed her by the state government.
Even though two judges ruled in her favor to award her settlement of back pay from the time of the discrimination event from July 2008 to May 2011, she still sees no sign of restitution from the California Department of Corrections.
The huge amount of annual backpay aside, she believes the fight is a matter of principle. She has already won her discrimination case, which is usually an extremely hard case to win, but fighting through the appeals process has also been a financial nightmare.
“I can’t get this agency to be held accountable or to come to the table to comply with what this judge ruled. They had to back-pay me. This was a quarter-million dollars that I would have been paid each year,” said Mabry-Height, M.D., MPH, FACP.
In her 20 plus years of experience as an internist and clinical work, she never had a malpractice suit filed against her and she is board certified. That, in contrast to the two less qualified applicants that CDCR hired instead of her after she applied to a southern California correctional facility.
She said the applicants didn’t come close to her level of expertise. She said they hadn’t finished their residency training, they had no work experience and they had no board certification.
At this point, she said the government is appealing the administrative writ that Judge Chang denied in 2016 at the appellate court level. She said it’s another stall tactic that is continuing at a heavy cost to try to get what is owed her.
“[They were] supposed to submit their response for their appeal on September 28, but they requested an extension, like 12 years has not been enough time for them to prepare responses,” said Mabry-Heights, a Redlands resident.
She compares that extension to what happened when her case started 12 years ago. Then, the judge refused to give her an extension even as the court had the proof that her attorney was in the intensive care unit. The judge told her that she must represent herself – which she compares to self-surgery – or that her case would end that day.
Although she won, and was awarded the backpay settlement, she said the state has used limitless resources and limitless attorneys to keep her mired in the judicial system. As she waits for her fair compensation, she continues to work, but she also worries about other victims that believe they can fight the system.
These days, she wants to connect with others, and is calling for them to come forward if they have battled similar situations with institutional racism and injustice of governmental agencies, or treated unjustly after filing a lawsuit.
“Right now, it’s only me, sometimes your story isn’t the only one, I’m hoping others will chime in and tell their story,” she said.
From the start, the process has been rife with obstacles, appeals and delays one after the other. At first, the California State Personnel Board (SPB) rejected the judge’s decision and moved the case from Los Angeles to Sacramento. There, another judge also ruled in Mabry-Height’s favor that she indeed was discriminated against.
The case is now under appeal.
Making matters worse is the backlog within the court system due to the pandemic. They are not getting their dates for hearings as requested, and the judges are working from home. Her attorney is waiting to respond to the CDCR appeal of the administrative writ that Judge Chang denied in 2016. He will be tasked to write a timely response, but there is no indication of how much time lies ahead.
Her message for other victims of the system is that if they believe that all they need to do is file a lawsuit, they should plan for a never-ending battle because the state has endless resources.
She said this is why Martin Luther King Jr. said that justice delayed is justice denied.
“ I don’t think my case is the only one. I want to hear about their experiences. I’m hoping other women will chime in, and tell their experience, getting your day in court. Institutional racism – this is the way it works,” she said.
To connect with Dr. Mabry-Height, email firstname.lastname@example.org