OHSU Denies Allegations In Sexual Assault Complaint

OHSU aerial.jpg

Oregon Health & Science University has denied accusations that it failed to address a sex assault case involving former anesthesiology resident Dr. Jason Campbell, known as the TikTok doc.

PDF iconIn an answer to a PDF iconcomplaint filed late last month, OHSU lawyers said that Campbell was removed from clinical duties, barred from campus and told not to contact the victim, a former OHSU employee. The document said OHSU launched an investigation after the plaintiff, a social worker who left OHSU to work at the nearby Veterans Affairs hospital in Southwest Portland, filed a sexual harassment report about Campbell. OHSU said he was referred for dismissal but resigned instead.

It said that Campbell was not on the job when the harassment took place, indicating that it has no liability for his actions.

The lawsuit says that Campbell snuck up behind the plaintiff in a room in the VA medical center and pushed into her with his erect penis. It also says he sent her pornographic text messages, including one of his erection in scrubs. 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeks $45 million in damages.

In tandem with the filing, Connie Seeley, chief of staff, and Dr. Danny Jacobs, OHSU’s president, wrote about the case on OHSU’s website. Jacobs said he will hire a consultant to review the environment at OHSU while Seeley said the case was “deeply distressing and inconsistent with the culture of safety and belonging” officials are trying to establish.

Their posts prompted more angry responses from OHSU employees on the company’s internal website. “Our leaders have failed us, and I am beyond angry,” one employee wrote. 

The lawsuit accuses top OHSU physicians, including Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine and national spokesperson against discrimination against women, of failing to report the assault to human resources or the affirmative action office as required by OHSU policy. It also describes a culture at OHSU in which victims suffer retaliation for speaking up, allegations are buried and perpetrators are protected. 

OHSU denied that Choo tried to dissuade the plaintiff, listed as A.B., from reporting the abuse. The complaint says Choo told A.B. that it was “never, ever worth it” to file a sexual harassment report. The allegations against Choo prompted about a dozen people to resign from Times Up Healthcare, a group that Choo co-founded to fight against gender bias and harassment.

OHSU said Choo told A.B. to file a report and that it was the right thing to do. 

The filing said its affirmative action office opened an investigation into A.B.’s complaint and ordered Campbell on April 22 not to have contact with the plaintiff. It says he was removed from clinical duties and excluded from campus. It says that the investigation concluded that Campbell had violated OHSU’s sexual harassment policy and code of conduct. It also said OHSU denies that Campbell was working within the scope of his employment at the time of the alleged assault and harassment.

When the University of Florida contacted OHSU as a reference, the institution relayed that he had violated its code of conduct. The university placed Campbell on administrative leave after the lawsuit was filed.

(See related story: Survivor In Dr. Jason Campbell, OHSU Suit Reacts.)

OHSU’s response to the complaint denies other allegations as well against OHSU employees. It said Dr. Sharon Anderson, dean of the school of medicine, had never been “flippant” or “indifferent” about sexual harassment and that Laura Stadum, the head of affirmative action, had ever said that OHSU failed to reach out to those who reported discrimination. It said that Dr. Kenneth Azarow, OHSU’s current surgeon-in-chief, had never engaged or admitted to sex discrimination and that people like Choo who were named as mandatory reporters in the complaint were not mandatory reporters under Title IX.

Physicians at OHSU told The Lund Report that they are told that they’re all mandatory reporters but don’t receive any instruction on what to report and to whom.

The OHSU response also touched on reports about the institution. It denied that an article had found that female surgeons suffered gender discrimination at OHSU. A report published in 2018 in the Annals of Surgery by OHSU staff found that previous salary discrepancies between male and female surgeons had been corrected. But a report published in 2019 in The American Journal of Surgery said there were fewer women in leadership roles in the surgery department at OHSU and that they were paid less than their peers. It found “significant gender-based differences in autonomy, with female residents receiving significantly less autonomy during laparoscopic procedures than male counterparts.” Along with the response to the complaint, OHSU also filed a motion for a protective order on Wednesday. That document seeks to prevent A.B.’s attorneys, Portland-based Michael Fuller and Kim Sordyl, from speaking publicly about any party in the case or potential witnesses, the “character, credibility or reputation of a party or potential witness,” the “strengths or weaknesses of the case of any party” and to talk about anything that would likely be inadmissible in court and could create “a substantial risk of prejudice if disclosed.”

The motion accused Sordyl and Fuller of embarking on a media campaign to disparage OHSU and its employees, “describing one OHSU employee as an ‘enabler’ (of sexual harassment), a ‘victim shamer’ and someone who ‘protects abusers.’”

“While OHSU fully acknowledges counsel’s right to seek the media spotlight and discuss this lawsuit publicly, statements like those referenced above go beyond the limits meant to preserve the right to a fair and impartial trial for all parties, including the defendants,” the filing said.

Seeley also discussed the motion in her website post. 

“As we intentionally and thoughtfully move toward employing trauma-informed approaches, improve practices, policies and culture, we are asking to move away from discussing specifics of the case at hand not because they are not important but because we have witnessed the inadvertent harmful nature of the narrative surrounding this case.” Seeley wrote. “We know that everyone heals and processes differently, and we are asking for your help with changing the culture while uplifting the standard of community and belonging.”

She said OHSU wished it had responded sooner to the complaints by A. B.

“Our objective is to prevent future incidences of sexual harassment at OHSU,” Seeley wrote. “We have received feedback that the process for reporting and expectations for reporting were suboptimal. While our investigative process was in compliance with applicable law and policy, we hear the feedback and plan to actively apply it to improve our processes with the overarching goal of prevention of sexual harassment.”

In his post, Jacobs said that he and the board chair will identify a consultant to investigate, analyze and review OHSU’s environment. He said OHSU is committed to “a transparent process to expose any and all frailties and barriers that present us from being a trauma-informed, multi-cultural and anti-racist institution, free of discrimination or harassment, which is our ultimate objective.”

Sordyl dismissed Jacobs’ promises.

“We've heard this song before,” Sordyl said. “We're tired of it. We're tired of the gaslighting.”

She also scoffed at Seeley’s post, saying it was treating readers like idiots. 

“Seeley is the tone police officer who is accusing plaintiff's advocates of creating an unsafe environment,” Sordyl said. “Her statement makes matters worse for the OHSU community. People are angry, and rightly so. Seeley's instruction to ‘Shut up unless it's nice’ is insulting.  OHSU's behavior isn't nice. It's abusive.Silencing victims and their advocates is the same behavior that got OHSU into this fiasco. Silencing is the behavior of a dysfunctional organization.  She should be embarrassed.”

She added: “OHSU's attempt to silence our client and her advocates similarly shows that OHSU clings to secrecy and PR campaigns.”  

Seeley and Jacobs website posts also prompted employees to react on OHSU’s internal website. “I have watched, literally for decades as OHSU dismissed victims who spoke up and ruthlessly protected perpetrators. The solutions you propose are THE EXACT SAME solutions that have been proposed in the past to crisis. THE EXACT SAME solutions that didn’t change anything. I literally don’t care at all what anyone at (the) director’s level and above says anymore. The only thing I care about is what GETS DONE!”

Another employee asked whether any mandatory reporters named in the lawsuit had been placed on leave, fired or resigned. Another demanded justice for survivors of sex abuse at OHSU. “We need a federal probe here.”

And another said OHSU always pays money to outside consultants to create policies that are then ignored.

“I think there’s a lot of built up frustration not only around how this was handled but how our own personal issues have been handled as well,” an employee wrote. “Although OHSU cannot make specific comments during the litigation process, the responses they’ve issued are just as frustrating (and) if not more confusing.”

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.

News source: