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VA Psychiatrist Wins Settlement After Complaints About Openness as Lesbian

Office of Special Counsel facilitates department plan to improve manager training.

This story has been updated. 

The Veterans Affairs Department has backed down from a stance that its mental health providers who are gay or lesbian should conceal that fact from patients.

In a settlement announced Tuesday by the Office of Special Counsel, Dr. Patricia Kinne, a psychiatrist who was working at the Louisville VA Medical Center, was awarded “full relief” after a review of patient complaints about her for revealing herself as a lesbian and referring to her wife.

Patients seeking to discontinue their treatment by Kinne had given her sexual orientation as the reason, prompting VA managers to threaten termination if she continued to speak of such “personal information,” which VA considered harmful to the doctor-patient relationship.

The special counsel staff investigation of the discrimination case found that only two of Kinne’s patients had requested transfers to another provider for such a reason, among several hundred requests regarding other psychiatrists involving broader issues in a comparable time period.

Investigators also noted that VA managers were “unable to distinguish their treatment of Dr. Kinne’s conduct from others who had received complaints, and provided inconsistent reasoning to support their actions,” the office said in a release. “Dr. Kinne is a well-regarded psychiatrist with no other reported performance or conduct issues, and was complimented by the VA in 2013 for having relatively few patient complaints.”

Kinne’s settlement included compensation for pain and suffering as well as her legal fees, according to one of her attorneys -- Cathy Harris of Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris in Washington. A complaint Kinne filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was also resolved.

With Kinne now employed elsewhere in the VA system, the department agreed to improve training of managers and human resources staff at the Louisville facility and notify them that employees are not required to hide their sexual orientation.

“These protections exist to ensure we have a federal workforce based on merit and free of discrimination,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said. “Enforcement of these protections ensures that the federal government is welcoming to LGBT employees. The VA deserves credit for taking positive steps to address the concerns raised by this case. All agencies should be mindful that federal managers cannot create arbitrary distinctions that lead to discriminatory treatment of their employees.”

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