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Destler Dodge

Dr. Annamaria Kontor’s claims that she was “summarily, unjustly and illegally terminated” from the RIT Student Health Center for managing hormone therapy for transgender students were heard in a closed grievance committee hearing on Sep. 22. The committee will comment on Sep. 29 whether RIT policy was followed in the firing of Kontor.

Kontor was fired on May 24 for prescribing gender-affirming hormone therapy to transgender students, allegedly against Health Center policy. Kontor’s immediate supervisor, Wendy Gelbard, had given her no documented warnings to cease treatment. Kontor and Gelbard’s recollections of the discussions of her treatments differed.

“I determined that the nature and severity of prescribing hormone therapy drugs for transitioning students and the willful disregard for a supervisor’s reasonable requests warranted immediate termination,” read an email from Gelbard to Kontor regarding their informal grievance meeting.

The hearing was held at the Venture Creations building on John St. and lasted five hours. Despite requests from Kontor, the committee decided that the hearing should remain closed at the request of Gelbard. The committee chair was Lauren Shields. Other committee members were Jeanne Casares, Samuel Waters, Deborah Blizzard and Peg Meyers.

The Grievance Process

The formal grievance committee was held after the informal grievance process did not resolve the problem. As part of this process, Kontor requested that Sandra Johnson, senior vice president of the Division of Student Affairs, review her termination.

"I am in support of Dr. Gelbard's decision to terminate your employment for cause, based on your deliberate disregard of the reasonable and legitimate directives of your supervisor," wrote Johnson in her response.

“I am in support of Dr. Gelbard’s decision to terminate your employment for cause, based on your deliberate disregard of the reasonable and legitimate directives of your supervisor,” wrote Johnson in her response.

This was in spite of the fact that no directives regarding Kontor’s treatments had been documented and Kontor claims that she was unaware of any prohibitions against the treatments she was administrating. Furthermore, Johnson said that Kontor’s quality of care had not been the reason for termination.

“I would encourage you [Kontor] to reflect on how your actions led to this outcome,” wrote Johnson. “Your termination was not based on your skill as a physician ...”

Kontor had received training in managing hormone therapy for transgender students, paid for by RIT. Such maintenance prescriptions vary the amount of hormones given based on blood tests, which is far safer than bridge prescriptions.

“The only thing I want to use the Health Center for is to get refills for my testosterone, get some blood tests every few months,” said Henry Trettenbach, a transgender student and Political Science major. “She [Kontor] was actually being a bit more thorough than my doctor in Chicago.”

Indeed, Kontor’s performance appraisal from April 2017 gave her an overall score of 3: “successful/meets expectations.” There were no areas where she did not meet expectations.

One comment stated that “when asked to stop, [Kontor] does comply,” which did not reference transgender care. In other comments, it is mentioned that the Health Center was aware of her interest in transgender care, but there is no direct mention of treatments.

Her plan of work, from the appraisal period 2016, stated the goal of “[Increasing] medical services offered for transgender students — [offering] comprehensive medical care,” with an anticipated completion date of Aug. 2018.

Before beginning the grievance process, Kontor had approached Human Resources Associate Director Amy Galiana, with prepared statements to argue that her termination had been unjustified.

“[Galiana] refused to accept it, stating that Dr. Gelbard and HR had enough information to justify the ‘extreme situation’ leading to Dr. Kontor’s immediate termination,” according to the minutes from the May 31 meeting.

The first informal grievance meeting was held on June 13, following the Staff Grievance Procedure. During this meeting, Gelbard stated that a policy prohibiting hormone prescriptions for transgender students had been generated by Taura Blyth, former interim medical director. The policy was not documented.

According to the minutes from the June 13 meeting, Gelbard did not respond to questions about the lack of documentation as “this information is not part of this procedure.” Gelbard claims that she was not aware of Kontor’s treatments until reviewing charts before the May 24 firing. This is despite two alleged meetings where Gelbard claims Kontor was reminded of the policy.

Possible Discrimination

The formal grievance will only comment on how RIT policy was applied to Kontor’s firing, according to Shields. Trettenbach feels that the firing of Kontor might constitute discrimination. 

Hormone therapy for purposes other than gender transitioning is provided at the Health Center. These services include low testosterone and birth control.

Kontor contacted the ACLU after she was fired and may sue the school if they do not reinstate hormone therapy for transgender students. In addition, the New York State Division of Human Rights will host a closed, pre-hearing conference in Rochester with Kontor, Gelbard and Human Resources in attendance, on Oct. 5.

Trettenbach has filed a complaint with the New York Office of Civil Rights, and hopes that it will get accepted, stating that "denying healthcare to specifically trans students violates Title IX, which protects against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc."

The grievance committee will not be considering the discrimination aspect. Instead, they will examine Gelbard’s adherence to the Staff Performance Improvement policy.

Contradicting Claims

RIT's Staff Performance Improvement policy states that:

“Supervisors must communicate performance problems to employees and document the communications.”

Gelbard claims she told Kontor twice that she was to cease providing hormone therapy to her students, although Kontor refutes that claim. Gelbard does not have the documentation to back up these claims. Additionally, Gelbard said that the prohibition against hormone therapy for transgender students was announced at a staff meeting in “early Spring semester 2017.”

All five staff providers and the Health Center ASL interpreter replied to a request for information from Kontor; none could recall any mention of a policy prohibiting hormone therapy for transgender students.

When the Health Center has no written policy on a treatment, they default to the Clinical Protocols Policy. This policy states that “Providers utilize guidelines and recommendations from recognized national professional organizations.”

The policy lists acceptable references, with the first being Up-to-Date, which states that hormone therapy can be provided by primary care doctors.

Health Center Decreases Services, Increases Costs

The Health Center had billed themselves as a “comprehensive primary care” practice for students, only referring students to specialized services if they had a “complex problem,” at least until May 28, 2017. Since then, the website has read that the Health Center provides only “basic primary care” and refers to specialists for “medical care beyond the scope of practice” of the Health Center.

These changes were made discretely to the Health Center website and were not announced to students. Despite the apparent decrease in available care, the student health fee increased by $6 for each semester.

None of these changes will be addressed in the grievance committee’s report.

“I hope that in the end, the committee’s report will help provide President Munson with some clarity on the situation and a successful resolution can be achieved,” stated Shields, the chair of the grievance committee.

Katie Terezakis, professor of Philosophy, considers herself an activist for student interests on campus and has been championing for Kontor.

“I absolutely think the Health Center should be caring for all of our students and providing hormone therapy,” Terezakis said. “Students are owed this.”

"Students are owed this."