Heart Study doc files lawsuit: Berenson in suit: Tulane fired me due to age

Published 4:59 am Saturday, January 7, 2017

This week, The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge reported that Dr. Gerald Berenson filed a civil suit in September against his alma mater and onetime employer, Tulane University.

Berenson is a Bogalusa native and the founder of the Bogalusa Heart Study, one of the longest ongoing heart studies in the world.

According to The Advocate, Berenson, now 94, is suing Tulane because he alleges they will not give him access to data from the studies he started decades ago. In addition, Berenson is also alleging a breach of employment agreement, age discrimination, damage to his reputation and that Tulane interfered with his work at another university.

The court date is Feb. 2.

Berenson would not comment to The Daily News for this story, and instead referred all questions to The Advocate’s reporting. He explained he did not want to say anything that could hurt his chances in court, but that he’d say more after the court date.

The civil suit was filed in Orleans Parish. According to the filing quoted in The Advocate, the school acknowledges that Berenson cannot have “unfettered access” to the data because of federal restrictions. The school also apparently called his requests “improper demands.”

According to The Advocate, he was fired from his position as researcher at the Department of Epidemiology of the University School for Public Health, though it reports he is still an unpaid research professor at the Department of Medicine, Biochemistry and Pediatrics. Berenson also works for LSU.

However, it is not clear what relationship Berenson has with the study. He is not listed among the faculty on the study’s website, www.clersite.org/bogalusaheartstudy. Under the link for “people,” the website lists two researchers, Dr. Lydia Bazzano and Wei Chen.

Bazzano is the director of the Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research at Tulane, the center that managed the Bogalusa Heart Study, and she is a Heart Study staff doctor.

Bazzano said Berenson is still affiliated with the program.

“He is still part of the heart study,” Bazzano said. “He is still coming into the clinic. We just saw him two or three days ago. He is also continuing his Heart Smart Program.”

Indeed, Berenson’s name appears alongside Chen’s name in a paper published in the American Journal of Medical Sciences published in November.

But Berenson, unlike Chen, is not included on the Bogalusa Heart Study’s website.

When asked why Berenson was not on the study’s website, she said it was due to the lawsuit.

“He has a separate website,” she said, and then added, “Because of the litigation, I was unsure of putting him on the website.”

That website, www2.tulane.edu/som/cardiovascular, lists him as the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health.

However, that webpage seems to be something of an island, unconnected to the rest of Tulane’s website.

Its parent page, www2.tulane.edu/som, has no link at all to the Center for Cardiovascular Health, Berenson’s page. In addition, every link at the top of Berenson’s page, from Director’s Message to Links to Staff to Contact Us links to the Tulane Center for Lifespan Epidemiology Research — Bazzano’s program.