STORIES
July 22, 2020

Nurse Forced To Quit After Reporting Sexual Harassment by Physician, EEOC Lawsuit Claims

Distressed nurse sitting in empty hospital hallway
Alice Benjamin By: Alice Benjamin

Imagine being harassed at work by a physician for weeks and despite using the chain of command to report the incidents and doing everything you’re supposed to do as outlined in policy – you end up being inconvenienced by those you sought help from, 

  • Your work schedule is changed to accommodate the aggressor 
  • You’re reassigned to an inconvenient work location that lengthens your commute, and creates difficulty for your work and personal life. 
  • Then after weeks of adhering to the changes you lose your job at a place you’ve been employed at for nearly 10 years while the physician who sexually harassed you continues working like nothing ever happened. 

That sucks! And, guess what? All of this actually happened to registered nurse Chelsea Jackson.

According to the EEOC lawsuit, Chelsea is an RN who worked at Pediatric Health Care Alliance, P.A. (PHCA) in Tampa, Florida. She says she was retaliated against by her employer for reporting sexual harassment by a physician. They transferred her to an inconvenient work location, limited her earning potential, and reduced her job duties; this ultimately left her with no other choice but to separate from the company. Read the press release from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission here. 

Nurses are being sexually harassed at alarming rates 

If you work as a nurse, chances are you’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment from patients, coworkers or someone else while at work. 

  • A study published in International Journal of Nursing Studies (2014), showed in public healthcare settings that 1 in 4, or 25%, of nurses worldwide had experienced verbal sexual harassment. 
  • Another study published in Journal of Pakistan Medical Association (2000), reported that 16.9% of nurses had experienced physical sexual harassment from male physicians, male patients, and male co-workers. 
  • Similarly, the findings of a study published in Student Health Technology Information (2006), about the types of sexual harassment concluded that the prevalence of verbal sexual harassment among nurses was 55.7%, whereas physical sexual harassment was 39.1%. 
  • And a study on sexual harassment of nurses published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing (2003), identified that, overall, 91% of nurses reported experiencing various kinds of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Nurse Chelsea Jackson’s Story

Per Ms. Jackson’s complaint, one day she was sitting at a desk and working on her computer in a lab area, Dr. Tappan approached her from behind and forcefully pressed his groin against her back for several seconds. Ms. Jackson tried to move out of Dr. Tappan’s way, but Dr. Tappan, who is over 6-feet tall and more than 200 lbs., pinned her against the desk so that she could not move. 

The harassment continued and approximately two months later, Ms. Jackson also states she was walking toward a patient examination room and encountered Dr. Tappan. She stopped walking to allow Dr. Tappan to pass her. Rather than just walk by her, Dr. Tappan grabbed Ms. Jackson by her hip and firmly squeezed. Ms. Jackson did not consent to being touched by Dr. Tappan, and such touching was unwanted. 

Pediatric Healthcare Alliance, PA (PHCA) Statement

PHCA shared the following statement with Nurse.org, 

"PHCA disputes that Ms. Chelsea Jackson was harassed by Dr. Tappan. Ms. Jackson’s harassment claims were unsubstantiated following an extensive investigation by PHCA as well as the EEOC. As an accommodation to Ms. Jackson, PHCA transferred Ms. Jackson to a location approximately 5 miles from her home with no change in duties or regular compensation. PHCA does not retaliate against employees. PHCA employs approximately 55 pediatricians and nurse practitioners and 250 support staff. It maintains detailed written policies and procedures prohibiting harassment which are provided to every employee. PHCA also provides regular training on these issues. PHCA takes very seriously its obligations to follow all federal and state laws and regulations and to respect and promote the dignity of all employees. 

For over 20 years both PHCA and Dr. Tappan have been a leaders in the Tampa Bay community promoting child health. In over 20 years of medical practice, Dr. Tappan has never previously had any allegations of sexual harassment claimed against him. He is a respected pediatrician who greatly values his long and unblemished reputation as a doctor and pediatric advocate.

We wish that Nurse.org had reached out to PHCA for comment before publishing the blog post of July 20, 2020 in order to present "both sides of the story". Furthermore, we dispute the accuracy of several details in the blog post and do not agree with its unfairly implied conclusions. We respectfully ask that Nurse.org immediately publish this complete statement with the original post by Alice Benjamin, or remove the post entirely. 

PHCA will vigorously defend the lawsuit and its well-earned reputation."

What Treatment is Considered Sexual Harassment? 

Sexual harassment can include any unwanted, unreciprocated, and unwelcomed behavior of a sexual nature that is offensive to the person involved, and causes that person to be threatened, humiliated, or embarrassed. 

It’s likely that most nurses have experienced unwanted approaches, sexually based comments, or inappropriate jokes—perhaps even unwanted physical contact—at some point in our careers. 

But harassment does not always have to be of a sexual nature.

It can include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. The gender of both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man; and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT (Lockwood, 2017)

Type Behaviors
Verbal (spoken or written)

Offensive teasing, joking, questioning

Suggestive remarks or sounds

Terms of endearment (e.g., honey, sweetie, baby)

Requests for sexual favors

Whistling, catcalls

Inappropriate emails, letters, memos, telephone calls

Comments about appearance, clothing

Threats

Spreading rumors about a person’s personal or sexual life

Non-verbal

Sexual gestures (e.g., licking, making hand signals, eating in a provocative manner)

Winking

Leering/Looking inappropriately at a person’s body parts

Blocking one’s path/following a person

Giving personal gifts

 

Visual

Sexual exposure, including flashing or mooning

Offensive pictures, pornography, posters, or pin-ups

Offensive screensavers

Emails with offensive graphics (e.g., pictures, cartoons)

Physical Touching, raping, brushing against the body, patting, stroking, hugging, kissing, fondling, massaging neck or shoulders
Psychological Repeated undesired social invitations, proposals or contact resulting in anxiety and stress

Sexual Harassment is Discrimination

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited under both state and federal laws; and which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And sexually explicit content does not need to prove psychological damage to show sexual harassment; the evidence should show conduct that would reasonably be perceived to be hostile and sexually abusive.

If you’ve participated in any of these actions – STOP! It’s not funny or acceptable. This is serious stuff and no one deserves to be made to feel uncomfortable, even if you’re only meaning to be playful.  If you witness this behavior with someone else, please speak up. As nurses it’s our duty to advocate and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of others. 

What To Do If You’ve Been Sexually Harassed at Work 

If any of these things have happened to you, remember, you do not have to take it, you can stand up for yourself and you are not alone. 

  • If you've already reported harassment at work and the employer won't take action, filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the next step.  
  • Depending on your state, you have 180 or 300 days from the date of discrimination to file. 
  • You are protected from retaliation if you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. That isn't to say the employer won't still retaliate, but if it does, you can report the retaliation to EEOC and possibly sue.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's

  • Race, 
  • Color, 
  • Religion, 
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation),
  • National origin, 
  • Age (40 or older), 
  • Disability 
  • Genetic information 

It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. 

The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. In the case of Ms. Jackson, the EEOC has intervened and there is now pending litigation.

Stories like those of Ms. Jackson are more common than we realize, and it’s important that we share these stories to raise awareness and empower victims and bystanders to speak up so we can end violence and abuse against nurses. 

 

Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP

Nurse Alice is a cardiac clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner with over 23 years of healthcare experience. She is a community health activist, freelance media health expert and CEO of I Am Nurse Approved. You can follow her at AskNurseAlice.com and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @AskNurseAlice.

 

References

Bronner, G., Peretz, C., Ehrenfeld, M. (2003). Sexual harassment of nurses and nursing students. Journal of Advanced Nursing; 42(6), 637-644 doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02667.x

Chuang, S.C., & Lin, H.M. (2006). Nurses confronting sexual harassment in the medical environment. Student Health Technology Information. 122,349-352

Lockwood, W. (2017). Sexual harassment in healthcare . Retrieved from RN.org: https://www.rn.org/courses/coursematerial-236.pdf

Shaikh, M.A. (2000). Sexual harassment in medical profession-Perspectives from Pakistan. Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, 50(130):1-3.

Spector, PE., Zhou, ZE., & Che, X. (2014). Nurse exposure to physical and non-physical violence, bullying, and sexual harassment: A quantitative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 51, 72-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2013.01.010

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