Experts Say Healthcare Sexual Harassment Is Rampant
There are many factors that contribute to making an organization more prone to sexual harassment. These include a hierarchical structure, a male-dominated environment, and a climate that tolerates transgressions. This is especially true when those in power commit the harassment. The healthcare industry usually has all three of these elements. Therefore, 30-70% of female physicians and nurses and 50% of medical students report being sexually harassed.
About Sexual Harassment
Federal law prohibits sexual harassment through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This applies to employers that have 15 or more employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be physically touching. In fact, it can be any number of unwelcome sexual advances like indirect or direct threats for sexual activity, sexist jokes, displaying sexually illicit materials or unwanted touch.
Healthcare Sexual Harassment
Medical organizations pretend healthcare sexual harassment doesn’t exist to avoid litigation. These organizations try to cover up instead of addressing the issues. Most do not even have a clear, comprehensive policy conveying firm commitment to safety, respect, inclusion, and equality. Also, many policies do not even set secure methods of reporting harassment to employers. Then, if there is an allegation, the organization needs to ensure that follow through is made. Healthcare sexual harassment is so rampant since most departments ignore reports. The Human Resource department has these policies on how to address allegations, but most see it as a checkbox.
Many do not survey employees or follow-up on allegations. A national survey of nearly 7,000 clinicians in America discovered that 10% admitted to healthcare sexual harassment within the past 3 years. Elven percent of nurses reported the misconduct. The scariest statistic is that 47% said another doctor was the perpetrator of the harassment.
Previous Cases of Healthcare Sexual Harassment
Many healthcare organizations are now experiencing the civil pushback for their lackadaisical policies. The University of Southern California (USC) has faced allegations of sexual assault among its medical staff, in addition to allegations of sexual assault of patients by a USC staff gynecologist, for which USC recently offered a $215 million settlement to the victims. In another case, despite knowing there had been a $135,000 settlement with a woman who had reported sexual harassment and retaliation by a doctor, USC leadership installed the same ophthalmologist as dean of the School of Medicine. He resigned less than a year later from more allegations.
Another case was in California where a federal jury awarded a victim of sexual harassment $168 million. It was the largest judgment in U.S. history for a single victim of workplace sexual harassment. The award capped a trial in which the former physician assistant at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento alleged she filed multiple complaints to no avail during her two-year tenure.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in any form in the workplace, you should contact a qualified employment attorney. You should do this right away since time is of the essence. If the harassment has not stopped after making a formal complaint with your employer, consulting a harassment lawyer is your best option. Your attorney will be able to provide further guidance, help you file a claim with the EEOC, and help you build a case that will put an end to what you have experienced.