By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Hartley Brooks, Law Clerk, The Health Law Firm
In a massive jury verdict awarding a male attending physician more than he requested, a jury found that a hospital demonstrated reverse discrimination and an anti-mail bias in how it handled a female resident physician’s complaint against him.
On January 8, 2024, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital urged a Pennsylvania Federal court to reverse a $15 million judgment against it over its handling of a sexual assault investigation in a gender bias case. In December 2023, a federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that there was proof that the hospital exhibited anti-male bias and violated a male orthopedic surgeon’s civil rights when it investigated allegations that he sexually assaulted a medical resident.  Thomas Jefferson University Hospital claimed the court unfairly excluded key evidence that would have countered the surgeon’s claims that the female medical resident was actually the aggressor.
The Initial Incident. 
In 2018, Plaintiff John Abraham, a male orthopedic surgeon at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, alleged that a female resident physician attended a pool party at his residence and engaged in sexually aggressive behavior towards him without his consent.  According to the lawsuit, he reported the female resident’s conduct to the hospital.
Dr. Abraham later learned that the female resident had already filed a complaint against him, resulting in an investigation into his behavior.  No charges against him have resulted from the hospital’s investigation or a related criminal investigation.
The Alleged Gender Discrimination. 
Dr. Abraham sued Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, accusing it of practicing discrimination against men during its investigation of the sexual assault allegations.  According to him, the hospital demonstrated gender bias by disregarding his allegation that he was assaulted by the female and pressuring him to take a leave of absence.  This was compounded by its failure to take any action against the alleged female aggressor about whom he complained.  The investigation was eventually terminated with no findings after Dr. Abraham relinquished his privileges at the hospital.
In the suit Dr. Abraham sought $5 million in compensatory damages.  However, after the four-day civil trial, the federal jury awarded him $11 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages.
The Hospital’s Request for a New Trial.
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital requested a new trial after the jury handed down the verdict. The hospital claimed that the court excluded critical evidence that it would have used on cross-examination of Dr. Abraham to help it win its case.  The excluded evidence included texts stating Dr. Abraham was not drunk at the party and that he intended to have sex with the female resident even though he knew it was unethical because she was his student.
The hospital also argued that the court gave incorrect jury instructions about the difference between anti-male discrimination and anti-respondent discrimination in a sexual assault investigation. According to the hospital’s motion, taking “risk minimization measures” against someone accused of sexual assault, like placing them on a leave of absence, is not cause for a Title IX gender discrimination lawsuit. Additionally, the hospital claims, not specifying this difference to the jury incorrectly led the jury to believe that anti-respondent bias was, in fact, anti-male bias.
The judge has not yet ruled on the hospital’s request.
To read two recent blogs I wrote about Title IX and its applications to resident physicians and fellows, click here and here.
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Sources.
Abraham v. Thomas Jefferson University No. 2:20-cv-02967-MMB (E.D. PA. January 8, 2024)
Abraham v. Thomas Jefferson University No. 2:20-cv-02967-MMB (E.D. PA. June 19, 2020)
D’Annunzio, P.J.. “Info Kept From Jury In $15M Gender Bias Case, Pa. Court Told.” Law360. (9 January 2024) https://www.law360.com/articles/1783770
Rock, Amy. “Thomas Jefferson University to Pay $15 Million to Male Surgeon for Gender-Biased Rape Investigation.” Campus Safety Magazine. (15 December 2023) https://www.campussafetymagazine.com/university/thomas-jefferson-university-to-pay-15-million-to-male-surgeon-for-gender-biased-rape-investigation/
Ruderman, Wendy. “Former Rothman orthopedic surgeon takes on Jefferson in federal court over sexual assault allegations.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. (5 December 2023) https://www.inquirer.com/health/john-abraham-rothman-jefferson-sex-discrimination-case-jury-federal-20231205.html
About the Authors: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.
Hartley Brooks is a law clerk with The Health Law Firm. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.
The Health Law Firm can be visited at:  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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Copyright © 2024 George F. Indest III, The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any way in any medium without the written permission of the copyright owner. The author of this work reserves the right to have his name associated with any use or publication of this work or any part of it.