$15M Verdict for Surgeon Who Claimed Employer Mishandled its Investigation into Sexual Assault Allegations against Him and was the Product of Anti-Male Bias

In a retrenchment of the #MeToo movement’s maxim that “all women must be believed,” a federal jury in Philadelphia found that a University engaged in anti-male bias when it investigated female resident’s sexual assault claim and awarded the accused male employee a whopping $15 million dollars in damages.

The Facts:

The plaintiff, Dr. John Abraham, was the Director of the Musculoskeletal Oncology Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, a professor at Thomas Jefferson University and a partner in the Rothman Orthopedic Institute.  After a pool party hosted by Dr. Abraham at his home, he engaged in sexual activity with a subordinate female resident physician.  Dr. Abraham claims he then filed a report with the University that the resident had intoxicated him and aggressively pursued sex without Dr. Abraham’s consent.  Dr. Abraham maintains that this complaint was not acted upon.  Thereafter, the female resident filed a report with the University alleging she was raped by Dr. Abraham.

Dr. Abraham was placed on unpaid leave from Thomas Jefferson University and suspended from the Rothman Orthopedic Institute while the University investigated the female resident’s claims.  Dr. Abraham ultimately resigned from Thomas Jefferson University and was terminated by the Rothman Orthopedic Institute for failing to bring in sufficient revenues to the partnership.

In his suit, Dr. Abraham claimed that the University conducted “a flawed, superficial and gender-based investigation” into the resident’s false rape claims that deprived him of the opportunity to adequately defend himself.  Dr. Abraham argued that he was subject to anti-male bias because he was a male accused of sexual assault.  Abraham’s counsel stated “It was clear that [the University] wanted to avoid having to discipline and find against the female accuser in the middle of the 2018 climate.  They made up their mind about the outcome of the process before a hearing was even planned.”

Like many employee rights actions, as the prevailing party Dr. Abraham is entitled to payment of his counsel fees by the University.  As if the payment of a $15M verdict isn’t enough to pain to exact upon the University, Dr. Abraham’s counsel has submitted a counsel fee application for $600,000, which is pending before the court.

The Lesson Learned: 

Although this case was in the context of a Title IX claim against recipients of federal funds, it serves as a cautionary tale to all employers in the post #MeToo era.  Employers must vigilantly assure that investigations into allegations of sexual harassment are fair to both the alleged victim and the accused.  Pre-judging claims by females without affording due process to an accused male will not only result in unjust results, but may trigger gender discrimination claims.  The Dr. Abraham case also serves as a reminder to employers that sexual harassment claims can be advanced by male employees against females and must be investigated with the same sense of urgency.

Internal investigations into allegations of workplace sexual harassment are fraught with danger for employers and should only be handled by individuals with sufficient training and experience to navigate the minefield to an equitable result for all parties.  As illustrated by the Dr. Abraham case, investigative missteps can be very costly.  Our Investigative Services team at Lindabury, McCormack Estabrook & Cooper has conducted hundreds of investigations for its clients into a wide array of workplace misconduct claims.  If you need any assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Kathleen M. Connelly or Lisa Gingeleskie.

Published on:

Comments are closed.

Contact Information