Tweet Gone Too Far? Goldwater Rule Violation

An ex-Yale psychiatrist who skirted the Goldwater Rule is suing the university over her termination.

A former Yale University School of Medicine-affiliated psychiatry faculty member filed a complaint against the university that claims unlawful termination after exercising her right to free speech in a tweet about the dangers of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“I have done this with a heavy heart, only because Yale refused all my requests for a discussion, much as the American Psychiatric Association has done,” Bandy Lee said. “I love Yale, my alma mater, as I love my country, but we are falling into a dangerous culture of self-censorship and compliance with authority at all cost.”1

Lee alleges Yale fired her in response to her tweet from January, in which she stated “just about all” of former President Trump’s supporters suffered from “shared psychosis,” and one of Trump’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, had “wholly taken on Trump’s symptoms by contagion.”

On January 11th, Dershowitz brought the tweet to the attention of Yale administrators, and claimed she had committed “a serious violation of the ethics rules of the American Psychiatric Association.” He requested she be disciplined for her actions.2

John Krystal, MD, chair of the Psychiatry Department, previously warned Lee over email that the university “would be compelled to terminate [her] teaching role” if she continued to make these sorts of public statements. Despite this, Lee continued to tweet about Trump’s mental fitness. On May 17, 2020, Yale notified Lee of her termination, which she appealed multiple times in August and September. These attempts were met with little success.

Krystal wrote Lee a letter explaining the department’s main considerations for her termination, which he emphasized were not due to the political content of her statements. In the letter, Krystal said, “Although the committee does not doubt that you are acting on the basis of your personal moral code, your repeated violations of the APA’s Goldwater Rule and your inappropriate transfer of the duty to warn from the treatment setting to national politics raised significant doubts about your understanding of crucial ethical and legal principles in psychiatry.”

According to court documents, Lee believes the Goldwater Rule is a “gag order.”

In an email to the New Haven Register, Lee said the following: “The American Psychiatric Association, by declaring me and others who would speak up as ‘unethical,’ based on its trade association rule, arguably violated our universal pledge under the Geneva Declaration not to collude with destructive governments and its own code to serve society. It enabled the president not to be held accountable for his mental unfitness and facilitated the deaths of 500,000+ Americans, which many scientific reports now confirm were largely unnecessary.”3

Furthermore, she claims she did not diagnose Dershowitz, but instead commented on “a widespread phenomenon of ‘shared psychosis.’”

The firm representing Lee, Robin Kallor LLP, stated that Lee’s comments are “clearly protected by the First Amendment and Yale’s guarantees of academic freedom.”

In her complaint, Lee requested reinstatement and compensation for damages, both economic and emotional. She has not been reappointed.

References

1. Hahamy M, Horta B. Former professor says Yale fired her over tweet on Trump, Dershowitz. Yale Daily News. March 23, 2021. https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2021/03/23/former-professor-says-yale-fired-her-over-tweet-on-trump-dershowitz/

2. Pavilonis V. Dershowitz requests Yale to investigate psychiatrist. Yale Daily News. January 27, 2020. https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2020/01/27/dershowitz-requests-yale-to-investigate-psychiatrist/

3. Stannard E. Ex-Yale psychiatrist, who criticized Trump, Dershowitz, sues over alleged firing. New Haven Register. March 23, 2021. https://www.nhregister.com/news/article/Ex-Yale-psychiatrist-who-criticized-Trump-16047079.php