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Court: Medical Residents Are Covered by Federal Discrimination in Education Laws

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

For the first time, a federal appeals court has ruled that a resident doctor may sue a teaching hospital for gender discrimination under education laws.

Reversing and remanding a trial judge's dismissal, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said the former resident at Mercy Catholic Medical Center could proceed with her case under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments Act. The case was a matter of first impression in the circuit, which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Claims Sufficient to Proceed

The plaintiff in the case, Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, alleged that supervising doctor "James Roe" made unwelcome sexual advances towards her. When she resisted, the doctor retaliated by giving her negative recommendations and otherwise scuttling her career. The appeals court said that Jane Doe's retaliation and quid pro quo claims were sufficient to proceed.

"[U]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature constitute quid pro quo harassment when (A) the plaintiff's submission to that conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of her education or employment experience in a federally-funded education program, or (B) submission to or rejection of that conduct is used as the basis for education or employment decisions that affect the plaintiff," Judge D. Michael Fisher wrote for the unanimous panel.

Unwanted Advances

Doe had alleged that 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, she said, often looking at her suggestively. This made Doe uncomfortable, especially when the two were alone. She told him she was not interested in a relationship.

Later, while she was working at a lab computer, Doe said that Dr. Roe 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.

On April 20, 2013 Doe received a letter from Mercy stating she'd been terminated but could appeal. She appeared before an appeals committee four days later where she described Dr. Roe's behavior. Dr. Roe appeared there too advocating for her dismissal, which was effective.

Dismissed and Reprieved

Doe filed her sex discrimination complaint on April 20, 2013, but a federal judge dismissed it as time-barred. The court of appeal reversed and remanded as to her retaliation, quid pro quo and state claims, but affirmed as to her hostile work environment claim.

"Like her retaliation claim, Doe's quid pro quo claim is timely only so far as she alleges conduct that occurred on or after April 20, 2013, two years before she sued Mercy," the court said.

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