Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, March 13, 2017

3d Circuit Says Medical Resident's Title IX Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Claim Survives Motion to Dismiss

Under a residency agreement, Doe joined Mercy's diagnostic radiology residency program in 2011 as a second-year, or R2. The program offered training in all radiology subspecialties in a community-hospital setting combining hands-on experience with didactic teaching. As required, Doe attended daily morning lectures presented by faculty and afternoon case presentations given by residents under faculty or attending physicians' supervision. She took a mandatory physics class taught on Drexel's campus, attended monthly radiology lectures and society meetings, joined in interdepartmental conferences, and sat for annual examinations to assess her progress and competence.
Doe says the director of Mercy's residency program, whom she calls Dr. James Roe, sexually harassed her and retaliated against her for complaining about his behavior, resulting in her eventual dismissal. Early on, Dr. Roe inquired about her personal life and learned she was living apart from her husband. He found opportunities to see and speak with her more than would otherwise be expected, often looking at her suggestively. This made Doe uncomfortable, especially when the two were alone. From these interactions she surmised Dr. Roe was sexually attracted to her and wished to pursue a relationship, though they both were married.
Three months into her residency Doe sent Dr. Roe an email voicing concern that others knew about his interest in her. She wanted their relationship to remain professional, she said, but Dr. Roe persisted, stating he wanted to meet with her while they attended a conference in Chicago. She replied with text messages to clear the air that she didn't want to pursue a relationship with him. Apparently displeased, Dr. Roe reported these messages to Mercy's human resources department, or HR. In response, HR called Doe to a meeting where she described Dr. Roe's conduct, like how he'd touched her hand at work, and said his unwelcome sexual attention was negatively affecting her training. The next day HR referred Doe to a psychiatrist, noting that her attendance was optional. Doe, however, believed Mercy would use it against her if she didn't go, given her complaints against Dr. Roe. She thus attended three sessions and complained there about Dr. Roe's conduct, but she heard nothing more from HR. Later Dr. Roe apologized to Doe for reporting her. He did it, he said, for fear he'd be reprimanded for having an inappropriate relationship with her. Thereafter two male faculty members, both close with Dr. Roe, trained her significantly less than they had before.
In Fall 2012 Dr. Roe learned Doe was getting divorced. His overtures intensified. He too was getting divorced, he told her, and he wanted a relationship with her. He suggested they go shooting and travel together. He said he was uncomfortable with her going to dinner for fellowship interviews and unhappy about her leaving Philadelphia post-residency. During this time Doe asked Dr. Roe and another faculty member for fellowship recommendation letters. They agreed but wrote short, cursory, and perfunctory ones. Dr. Roe even told the fellowship's director that Doe was a poor candidate. When Doe called Dr. Roe to ask why, he said it was to teach her a lesson before hanging up on her.
In response to Doe's complaints about Dr. Roe, Mercy's vice president, Dr. Arnold Eiser, called Doe to a meeting with Dr. Roe and others. There Doe complained about Dr. Roe's conduct again but was told to wait outside. A short time later Dr. Eiser escorted her to Mercy's psychiatrist. As they walked Dr. Eiser told Doe her second in-service examination score was poor, an issue she needed to address. Later, however, Doe learned this wasn't true: Her score was in the 70th percentile, and Dr. Eiser had received misinformation. She asked Dr. Roe to report her improvement to the fellowship she'd applied to, but he refused. Mercy later told Doe that to remain in the program, she'd have to agree to a corrective plan. Reluctantly, she signed on.
Dr. Roe's conduct continued into Spring 2013. Once while Doe was sitting alone with Dr. Roe at a computer reviewing radiology reports, he reached across her body and placed his hand on hers to control the mouse, pressing his arm against her breasts in the process. She pushed herself back in her chair, stood up, and protested. Another time, when a physician expressed interest in Doe, Dr. Roe became jealous and told Doe she shouldn't date him. Later, in April 2013 Dr. Roe told another resident to remove Doe's name as coauthor from a research paper she'd contributed to. Doe complained, but Dr. Roe said she was acting unprofessionally and ordered her to another meeting with Dr. Eiser. At that meeting Doe again told Dr. Eiser about Dr. Roe's conduct over the past year. Dr. Eiser, however, said the other residents loved Dr. Roe and told her to apologize to him. She did, but Dr. Roe wouldn't accept it, calling it insincere. Dr. Eiser suspended Doe, recommending another visit to the psychiatrist.
Thereafter on April 20, 2013 Doe received a letter from Mercy stating she'd been terminated but could appea.

Education, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink


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