Manager ‘groomed for sex’ advances quid pro quo but not hostile environment claim
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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Manager ‘groomed for sex’ advances quid pro quo but not hostile environment claim

By WK Editorial Staff

The employee alleged that while she was ill, the doctor proposed a secret affair with her, promising to take care of her and to protect her job.

A federal district court in Maryland refused to dismiss the Title VII sexual harassment quid pro quo claim of an urgent care medical facility manager who alleged that a doctor/alter ego of the company groomed her for sex while she was battling a life-threatening illness. Despite evidence that appeared to depict a fully consensual sexual relationship, her allegations that the doctor demanded and obtained sexual favors as a condition of her employment and that her termination arose from her coerced sexual involvement with him were sufficient to allow her claim to advance. Her hostile work environment claim, however, was less successful (Doe v. Chesapeake Medical Solutions, LLC, December 2, 2019, Gallagher, S.).

Secret affair. Hired in 2011 to manage one of the employer’s medical care facilities, the employee was successful at turning the troubled facility into the most successful one of the entire chain. In 2013, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that required extensive treatment including an organ transplant. The doctor became involved with her care as a trusted medical advisor and friend. Beginning in 2015, however, she alleged that he began to "groom her for sex" by confiding extremely personal sexual matters and, while she was still quite ill, he proposed a secret affair with her, promising to take care of her and to protect her job.

Fired, rehired, promoted. Because of her illness, she alleged, she was entirely dependent on the physician for her job and for important aspects of her local medical care and therefore she could not refuse sex with him. Although another physician terminated her in 2016 without warning, the doctor arranged for her to be rehired into a different position and then promoted her to a higher-ranking managerial job.

She alleged that her continued sexual relationship with him was a quid pro quocondition of her reemployment and continued employment. Further, she asserted, even after he ended the affair, he expected her to help cover up his extramarital affairs as a condition of continued employment. When she was ultimately terminated, he purportedly told her it was because she had not complied with his efforts to hide his affairs from his wife.

She subsequently sued under Title VII and the employer filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, which the court considered as a motion to dismiss.

Quid pro quo. Finding that the employee adequately stated a claim of quid pro quo harassment, the court noted that she alleged the doctor demanded and obtained sexual favors as a condition of her employment and her termination arose from her coerced sexual involvement with him.

Text messages. The court noted, however, that text messages provided by both parties could be interpreted to suggest that the chances of the employee’s recovery on a quid pro quo theory might be slight. These messages appeared to depict a fully consensual sexual relationship and to indicate that, at times, the employee initiated and indeed encouraged sexual contact, even during times of medical treatment for her various conditions.

The messages also showed that the sexual relationship continued after her initial termination and that she voluntarily returned despite having secured another job, which undermined the notion that she tolerated the sexual contact only to preserve her employment. Nonetheless, said the court, her allegations were sufficient to advance her quid pro quo claim even if she might have an uphill battle surviving summary judgment.

Hostile work environment. In dismissing her hostile work environment claim, the court found she essentially alleged that her sexual relationship with the doctor, and the aftermath of the relationship in which she was asked to cover up his extramarital relationships, created an uncomfortable work environment. Even assuming this to be true, this did not establish a hostile work environment. She did not allege that her coworkers knew of the affair or that comments made or actions taken at work rendered it "permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult."

The case is No.: 1:19-cv-02670-SAG.

Attorneys: Julie C. Janofsky (Fedder & Janofsky) and Michael Stuart Warshaw (Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid) for Jane Doe. Robin R. Cockey (Cockey Brennan and Maloney) for Chesapeake Medical Solutions, LLC, and Chesapeake Medical Solutions, P.A.

Companies: Chesapeake Medical Solutions, LLC; Chesapeake Medical Solutions, P.A.

Cases: SexualHarassment Discrimination SexDiscrimination MarylandNews

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