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CRANDELL v. N.Y. COLLEGE

March 10, 2000

COLLEEN CRANDELL, D.O., PLAINTIFF
V.
NEW YORK COLLEGE OF OSTEOPATHIC MEDICINE, ET ANO., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis A. Kaplan, District Judge.

  OPINION

Sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination in medicine and medical education are said by some to have restricted the flow of able women into the profession and burdened the training and careers of those who have entered it.*fn1

The plaintiff in this case alleges that she was subjected to sexual harassment through much of her training as an osteopathic physician at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine ("NYCOM") and during her subsequent internship at St. Barnabas Hospital. Most of the alleged conduct of which she complains ranges from tasteless and insensitive to egregious. Rather than suing the individuals responsible, however, she has brought this action against NYCOM and New York Institute of Technology ("NYIT"), of which NYCOM is a branch, under Title IX of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, as amended,*fn2 and parallel State and City legislation.*fn3 She thus has illustrated one of the difficulties inherent in this area.

Defendants seek summary judgment dismissing the complaint, essentially on the grounds that plaintiff's allegations, even if true, do not make out a case of sexual harassment and, in any case, that defendants are not liable because plaintiff did not inform them of the events complained of her until after she graduated and finished her internship. The first of their contentions borders on the frivolous. If what plaintiff alleges occurred, a jury quite reasonably could find that she was subjected to sexual harassment. The second argument, however, is far more substantial. Plaintiff's failure to notify defendants of her problems as they occurred, as she now says, may well have been a product of concern about the effect of such complaints on her grades and career prospects. Indeed, the female faculty member to whom she made her sole complaint reportedly told her that women in medicine just have to get used to such things. But the issue is not whether plaintiff's reticence was understandable. Given the Supreme Court's holding in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District,*fn4 that educational institutions may be found liable under Title IX only if an appropriate official at the institution has actual knowledge of the discrimination, plaintiff's failure to speak up is fatal to the bulk of her claims.

Facts

As on any summary judgment motion, the Court is obliged to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Accordingly, defendants quite understandably have not challenged plaintiff's version of the facts on this motion, but have confined themselves to making legal arguments in support of dismissal, even assuming that everything that plaintiff alleges took place. Thus, the facts set forth here reflect simply plaintiff's claims rather than anything established by adjudication.

Allegations of Harassment

Plaintiff Colleen Crandell entered medical school at NYCOM in the fall of 1994. She graduated in 1998 and subsequently held a one-year paid post-graduate internship at St. Barnabas Hospital from July 1998 to July 1999. All of her claims relate to incidents occurring during this period.*fn5

1. Professor No. 1

Just weeks after beginning her studies at NYCOM in the fall of 1994, plaintiff was approached by one of her anatomy professors, Professor No. 1, who asked her out on a date.*fn6 Although plaintiff declined the invitation, Professor No. 1 was not dissuaded and asked her out several more times over the course of the semester.*fn7 On at least one of these occasions, he told plaintiff that she was pretty.*fn8 On another, he said that he wanted to break off his relationship with his fiance in order to date plaintiff.*fn9 Although Professor No. 1 never explicitly requested sex on any of these occasions, plaintiff assumed from his comments and the frequency of his requests that Professor

No. 1 was asking plaintiff to have sex with him.*fn10 Plaintiff consistently refused his invitations.*fn11

On one evening during the semester, Professor No. 1 arrived at plaintiff's apartment with a fellow NYCOM professor, who apparently had dated plaintiff's roommate.*fn12 The roommate invited Professor No. 1 and his friend in and, sometime thereafter, Professor No. 1 entered plaintiff's bedroom uninvited and kissed plaintiff against her will.*fn13 Plaintiff pushed him away and told him to leave the room.*fn14

After this incident, the requests for dates ceased.*fn15 Plaintiff nonetheless was frightened of Professor No. 1, felt uncomfortable around him, and tried to avoid him as much as possible.*fn16 Accordingly, she began to miss her anatomy class.*fn17

Plaintiff never reported any of this behavior to NYCOM officials.*fn18

2. Professor No. 2

During the same semester, another anatomy professor, Professor No. 2, made several comments with sexual overtones during class.*fn19 These comments were directed at either plaintiff's large lecture class or her small laboratory section, consisting of about six people, and not at plaintiff personally.*fn20

Plaintiff never reported these comments to school officials.*fn21

3. The Cardiologist

During her third year of medical school, plaintiff began to experience heart palpitations.*fn22 When she visited the NYCOM student medical center for evaluation, the attending physician, Dr. Barbara Capozzi, recommended that plaintiff see a cardiologist and suggested a NYCOM faculty member who had taught plaintiff during her second year (the "Cardiologist").*fn23 Accordingly, plaintiff made an appointment to see the Cardiologist at his private office on Long Island.*fn24

After arriving at the office, plaintiff met briefly with the Cardiologist and then was taken by a female nurse into an examination room and asked to change into a gown.*fn25 After she changed, the Cardiologist entered the room, asked the female nurse to leave, and began to listen to plaintiff's heart using a stethoscope.*fn26 During this examination, the Cardiologist pressed his erect penis against plaintiff's hand, which was gripping the side of the table.*fn27 When she moved her hand forward, he followed and continued to press himself against her.*fn28 After the examination, plaintiff dressed and was walking down the hallway when the Cardiologist stopped her and told her that she was the most beautiful of all his patients.*fn29

Following this visit, plaintiff returned once to the Cardiologist's office for a follow up consultation and later to pick up a heart monitor from the Cardiologist's technician and to return the monitor.*fn30 During the latter two visits, she did not see the Cardiologist.*fn31 She did not return to his office, although the heart palpitations continued.*fn32

After this incident, plaintiff felt humiliated, violated and fearful that there could be a negative effect on her medical career, given the Cardiologist's prominence at NYCOM and in the broader medical community.*fn33 In consequence, she did not report this experience to anyone at NYCOM.*fn34

4. The Lutheran Hospital Resident

Beginning in her third year of medical school, plaintiff was sent on a series of clinical clerkship rotations at various area hospitals as part of her medical education. In the fall of her third year, plaintiff was sent on a clinical rotation to Lutheran Hospital, where she was assigned to work with an obstetrics/gynecology resident (the "Resident").*fn35 During the six week rotation, the Resident subjected plaintiff to numerous sexual comments, including routine references to her as his girlfriend, often in front of patients and hospital staff, and remarks about the size of her breasts.*fn36 He frequently put his arms around her.*fn37 On one occasion, immediately after commenting that her breasts needed to be "fattened up," the Resident asked plaintiff to lunch and told her that if she refused to spend time and eat lunch with him on a regular basis, he would fail her for the rotation.*fn38 Given the Resident's prior behavior toward her, plaintiff felt this invitation to be sexual in nature.*fn39 The Resident subsequently asked her to lunch at least four additional times.*fn40 Only once did plaintiff have lunch with him in the hospital cafeteria.*fn41 Although plaintiff refused all other invitations, asked him to stop calling her his girlfriend, and reminded him that she was engaged, the Resident stated that he did not care and continued his behavior.*fn42

Near the end of the clinical rotation, before receiving her grade, plaintiff reported the Resident's behavior to Dr. Lisa Eng, an attending physician at Lutheran Hospital who had taught part of plaintiff's ob/gyn course at NYCOM and who was in charge of all medical students on clinical rotations at Lutheran.*fn43 Although plaintiff told Dr. Eng that she had been sexually harassed by the Resident and discussed some of the specific incidents of harassment, Dr. Eng dismissed plaintiff's complaint, responding that, as a woman in medicine, plaintiff should get used to such behavior.*fn44 The hospital's director of ob/gyn, Dr. Zarou, was present during this conversation.*fn45

After the clinical rotation was finished, plaintiff learned that she had received a poor grade.*fn46 In consequence, she went to speak to Dr. Abraham Jeger, NYCOM's Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs, whom she had been told to contact in case of any problems with the clinical rotations.*fn47 She explained to Dr. Jeger that the Lutheran Hospital Resident had sexually harassed her and complained that she had received a poor grade because she had protested to Dr. Eng.*fn48 She reported to Dr. Jeger some of the specific incidents of harassment by the Resident, but did not talk about previous incidents with Professor No. 1, Professor No. 2, and the Cardiologist because she did not know what effect, if any, her complaint would have on her career and professional reputation.*fn49 After plaintiff explained her situation, Dr. Jeger responded that he would raise her grade, but did not offer to do anything about the harassment.*fn50 He did not suggest that plaintiff report the incidents to anyone else at NYCOM.*fn51

5. The Gastroenterologist

Later during her third year, plaintiff was sent on a clinical rotation to Nassau County Medical Center, where she was assigned to rotate for one month with an attending physician in gastroenterology (the "Gastroenterologist").*fn52 During this time, the Gastroenterologist made numerous comments and sexual overtures to plaintiff, including comments about her looks and her weight, suggestions that she was too attractive to be a physician, and appeals to plaintiff to date his sons.*fn53 Further, he frequently stared at her and put his arms around her shoulders.*fn54

In response to the Gastroenterologist's behavior, plaintiff tried to keep her distance from him.*fn55 Additionally, she told him to stop on more than one occasion,*fn56 although he merely laughed in response.*fn57 Plaintiff took no further action because she was intimidated by the Gastroenterologist and feared that he could affect her grade, as he was required to complete her evaluation form.*fn58 Further, as Dr. Jeger had done nothing to address the sexual harassment she experienced at Lutheran Hospital, she feared that a complaint would be to no avail.*fn59

One year later, during her fourth year at NYCOM, plaintiff was assigned to another clinical rotation at the same hospital.*fn60 Although the rotation involved pulmonary medicine, and plaintiff therefore was not required to work with the Gastroenterologist, she once found herself in the hospital's intensive care unit ("ICU") with the Gastroenterologist and several other attending physicians, residents and students.*fn61 In front of these observers, the Gastroenterologist began to criticize plaintiff's weight, commented ...


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