Trials & Litigation

Judge tosses suit by Yale psych prof fired over diagnosis of Trump and Dershowitz

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A federal judge in Connecticut has tossed a lawsuit filed by a volunteer psychiatry professor at Yale University who lost her job after suggesting publicly that former President Donald Trump and lawyer Alan Dershowitz may have shared psychiatric symptoms "by contagion."

In an Aug. 30 opinion, U.S. District Judge Sarah A.L. Merriam of the District of Connecticut rejected claims by Bandy Lee, an unpaid, volunteer professor in the Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division.

The Volokh Conspiracy and the Hartford Courant have coverage.

At Yale, Lee was required to participate in four hours of student teaching or supervisor activities each week. In return, she received office space and access to facilities and databases and other benefits. Yale did not reappoint Lee after her term ended.

Lee had publicly said Trump exhibited a “pattern of delusions,” was “lacking rational decision-making capacity,” and had “definitive signs of severe pathology,” according to a letter to Lee by the chair of Yale’s psychiatry department. She had taken the position that she had a duty to warn the public that Trump was a threat to public safety.

In a January 2020 tweet, Lee commented on Dershowitz’s use of the word “perfect” to describe his sex life with his wife after revelations about his ties to convicted sex offender and multimillionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein. Trump had also used the word “perfect” to describe his 2019 call in which he pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate now-President Joe Biden and his son.

Lee tweeted that “given the severity and spread of ‘shared psychosis’ among just about all of Trump’s followers,” a likely scenario was that Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, “has wholly taken on Trump’s symptoms by contagion.”

Lee had written a book claiming that Trump’s mental health was affecting the mental health of the people of the United States, creating a grave risk that democracy would be undermined and the country would become involved in violence.

A Yale review committee had concluded that Lee made the statements in her professional capacity as a psychiatrist, rather than a layperson making a political judgment, according to the letter. The letter said Lee didn’t follow current methods for diagnosing psychotic disorders and had transferred the duty to warn in clinical settings to national politics. The letter also said Lee violated the American Psychiatric Association’s ethical Goldwater Rule by diagnosing people without meeting them.

Merriam said there was no implied contract that Yale would reappoint Lee and no protection for Lee under Connecticut’s private-employee free speech statute because she was a volunteer, rather than an employee. The Connecticut law authorizes damages when employers discipline or discharge employees who exercise First Amendment rights in a way that does not substantially or materially interfere with job performance or the working relationship.

Merriam also rejected claims that Yale breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and that statements about academic freedom in its employee handbook constituted negligent misrepresentation.

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