U.S. District Court dismisses Title IX harassment, state law claims brought by former medical resident

By Nicholas Malfitano | Feb 1, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – A former medical resident who sued the hospital she worked at for discrimination, harassment and breach of contractual claims, has had those claims dismissed in federal court.

Mercy Health System  

PHILADELPHIA – A former medical resident who sued the hospital she worked at for discrimination, harassment and breach of contractual claims, has had those claims dismissed in federal court.

Judge Michael M. Baylson dismissed the Title IX-related federal and separate state law claims of the unnamed former resident (“Jane Doe”) against Mercy Catholic Medical Center, ruling the residency program the plaintiff belonged to did not qualify as education-related and declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.

The plaintiff began her residency at Mercy Catholic in July 2011 and claimed Dr. James Roe sexually harassed her during the following two years, through inappropriate comments, glances and physical contact. When she rejected Roe’s advances, Roe retaliated against her by giving her poor recommendations for post-residency fellowship, the lawsuit claims.

Though the plaintiff made complaints about Roe’s behavior to Human Resources, Mercy Catholic terminated her from her residency on April 20, 2013, the suit claims. She attended a hearing four days later in which the hospital’s appeal committee upheld the decision to terminate, but allowed her the opportunity for further appeal. Instead, the plaintiff chose to resign from the program and filed suit on April 20 of last year.

Baylson rejected the plaintiff’s notion that since educational skills were learned through the residency, that Title IX would apply to the disputed claims. Baylson referred to this as “improper circumvention.”

“If in using the term ‘education’ Congress intended any experience conveying skills or knowledge, Title IX would govern any interaction in which one party could potentially learn something,” Baylson said.

In fact, Baylson stated Title VII would have been a more appropriate section for the plaintiff to have filed her claims under.

“Absent explicit Congressional authorization for Title IX plaintiffs to be exempted from Title VII’s carefully crafted administrative scheme, the Court concludes that Title VII should be the exclusive avenue for relief (particularly when, as here, the employer is not an educational institution),” Baylson said.

Baylson also expressed opposition to the concept that Roe’s advocating for the plaintiff’s termination at her appeal hearing qualified as a “continuing violation” of hostile environment harassment – and also that the alleged harassment did not take place within the two-year statute of limitations period associated with Title IX claims.

“Plaintiff does not allege that Roe made sexualized comments or that he touched her in a sexual way at the hearing, only that he advocated for her dismissal. Roe’s conduct, in other words, was not similar to the alleged pattern of harassment and therefore cannot be considered a continuing violation,” Baylson stated.

Finally, Baylson also stated in light of the disposition of the federal claims associated with the Title IX, the Court had no standing with regard to the plaintiff’s state law claims of “contract-based gender discrimination, wrongful termination and a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”

Baylson also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction in this situation.

“Because defendant’s residency program is not an education program or activity, plaintiff’s Title IX claims fail as a matter of law,” Baylson said. “Plaintiff’s hostile environment claim additionally fails for being time-barred, and the Court will exercise its discretion to dismiss the pendent state law claims without prejudice.”

Baylson dismissed the plaintiff’s Title IX claims with prejudice and additionally, her state law claims, without prejudice.

The plaintiff was represented by Joshua S. Boyette of Swartz Swidler, Cherry Hill, N.J.

The defendants are represented by A. James Johnston, Andrea Meryl Kirshenbaum and Kate A. Kleba of Post & Schell, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-02085

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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