Sexual Harassment in Healthcare - Kira Fonteneau

Sexual Harassment in the Medical Field

Gender inequality has existed in the medical field for centuries. It took until the mid-1850s before the first woman was admitted to a medical school in the U.S., and Harvard Medical School didn’t admit a female student until 1936. Today, there are roughly the same number of men and women attending medical school. But despite reaching parity at the academic level, women still only make up approximately one-third of the nation’s physicians.

The gender gap is even wider in positions of authority within the health care field. While the field has far more women than men overall, women only hold about 15% of the management positions, and only about one out of five hospital CEOs are women. Because of these disparities, women are frequently subjected to various forms of discrimination and harassment in the medical workplace. And the male-dominated hierarchical structure (and other factors unique to the health care industry) has created an environment where sexual harassment is prevalent.

Widespread Sexual Harassment in the Medical Field

As more women have entered the healthcare field, the rate of sexual harassment has also increased. Women in the industry experience sexual harassment from the time they begin training for their career. For example, as many as half of female medical students have reported being sexually harassed. In addition, 30% of female members of medical faculty say they have been sexually harassed in the past two years.

It gets no better once women enter their residency and start working in hospitals, laboratories, and other medical facilities. 30% to 70% of female physicians report they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This percentage is higher than in most other fields, and there is little evidence that the health care industry is doing anything to stop it. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, “the efforts of many healthcare organizations and medical centers tend to go little further than avoiding litigation.”

There are several reasons sexual harassment occurs so frequently in the medical field:

  • Management Disparities: the positions of power in the health care field are overwhelmingly dominated by men, with women accounting for the vast majority of subordinates. Transgressions are frequently tolerated in this environment, because those in power tend to “look out for each other.”
  • Isolated Work Environments: Women who work as residents and in hospitals, clinics, and laboratories often work alone with their supervisors. This creates a climate where supervisors can harass subordinates without other witnesses. More than half of all reported incidents of sexual harassment in the medical field occur in isolated work environments.
  • Fear of Retaliation: One of the major reasons sexual harassment continues to occur at alarming rates within the health care field is that many women do not report it fearing negative consequences. Not only do victims of sexual harassment fear losing their job, they are also afraid that they will be labeled “moody” or “difficult to work with” or many other derogatory labels that could foster a hostile work environment and cost them career advancement opportunities. And for residents, a sexual harassment claim could mean not getting a letter of recommendation from their supervisor, which is often their only route toward securing future employment.

Sexual harassment is not only a problem between supervisors and subordinates in the medical field, females are also frequently harassed by patients whom they often work with in an isolated environment. Unfortunately, most women in the medical field do not report sexual harassment by patients because of fear they may be publicly ridiculed or even lose their jobs.

Combating Sexual Harassment in the Medical Workplace

In the wake of the #metoo movement, a growing number of female physicians and other health care workers are reporting incidents of supervisor and patient harassment. However, there is still a long way to go before females will be adequately protected from sexual harassment and sexual advances in the medical workplace.

There are steps female doctors and other health care workers can take to help protect themselves from being subjected to this behavior:

  • Avoid being alone with a male supervisor or male patient;
  • End a conversation, examination, or doctor-patient relationship if harassment or abuse occurs or if you feel unsafe;
  • Report any questionable behavior by a supervisor or patient. In most medical workplaces, there are channels set up for this specific purpose;
  • Speak with an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer about your legal rights and options.

Contact Alabama Employment Attorney Kira Fonteneau

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating aggressively for your rights and interests. For 13 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for working people in Alabama. Kira knows this area of the law, and she works closely with her clients to investigate their case and explore every potential legal avenue toward obtaining relief.

For a consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.  

FMLA and the Military - Fonteneau Law

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act apply to Members of the Military?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law enacted in 1993 designed to allow covered employees to take unpaid and job-protected leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Under the FMLA, covered employees may take off up to 12 weeks per year to care for themselves or eligible family members. The law was intended to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, and although the FMLA does not require employers to provide paid leave, employers can do so voluntarily. In addition, employees may substitute any paid leave they have accrued for FMLA leave.

Basic Coverages under the FMLA

Under the original provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, covered employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for these purposes:

  • To care for a newborn child;
  • To care for a child adopted or placed into their foster care;
  • To care for a spouse or parent who is seriously ill;
  • To care for a child under the age of 18 seriously ill, or a disabled child of any age seriously ill;
  • For an employee to recover from their own serious illness.

FMLA Amendments for Military Families

In 2008, Congress amended the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide two new types of leave for covered employees with qualified family members in the military;

  • Active duty family member leave (also known as “qualifying exigency leave”); and
  • Military caregiver leave.

Active Duty Family Member Leave

Active duty family leave allows covered employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for “qualifying exigencies” that arise when an employee’s spouse, parent, or child is on covered active duty or has been called to covered active duty.

For members of the Regular Armed Forces, “covered active duty” means deployment to a foreign country (this would include international waters). For members of the National Guard and Reserves, “covered active duty” means deployment of the member with one branch of the Regular Armed Forces to a foreign country to support a contingency operation.

There are 8 qualifying exigencies for which an employee can take active duty family member leave under the FMLA:

  • Short-Term Notice Deployment: An employee may take up to 7 calendar days to deal with issues that may arise from the notification of an impending call to covered active duty.
  • Military Events and Related Activities: Employees may take leave to attend military programs, ceremonies, events, briefings, family support and assistance programs, and other activities related to deployment to active duty.
  • Financial and Legal Arrangements: Updating bank accounts, wills, powers of attorney, etc.
  • Childcare and School Activities: Arranging care and schooling for the child of a family member called to covered active duty or is already deployed abroad.
  • Counseling: Employees may take leave to attend counseling for themselves, the deployed family member, or the child of the deployed family member.
  • Rest and Recuperation (R&R): Employees may take up to 15 days of leave to spend with a military family member on short-term R&R leave during active duty deployment.
  • Post-Deployment Activities: Employees may take time off to attend ceremonies, programs, events, briefings, and related activities that occur after the family member returns home from active duty, or to address issues and events that arise from the death of an active duty military family member.
  • Parental Care: Employees may take leave to care for a military family member’s parent who is unable to care for themselves, and whose care is necessitated by the family member’s active duty deployment.

Military Caregiver Leave

Eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a covered service member. “Covered service member” is defined as a current military member or veteran discharged (other than dishonorably) within five years of treatment who has incurred or aggravated a serious injury or illness while in the line of active duty.

A serious injury or illness is one that makes an active duty member medically unfit to perform his/her duties. For a veteran, a serious illness or injury is one that rendered them medically unfit to perform their military duties, qualifies them for certain VA benefits, or inhibits their ability to work.

Eligibility for FMLA for Military Families

For employees with military family members to be eligible for leave, they must meet all the criteria to be eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • Work for a private employer with 50 or more employees, or work for a federal, state, or local government agency or elementary or secondary school;
  • Have worked for a covered employer for at least the past 12 months;
  • Have worked at least 1250 hours during the past 12 months;
  • Work within 75 miles of a site that has at least 50 employees.

FMLA Anti-Retaliation Provision

It is unlawful for a covered employer to deny, restrain, or interfere with an employee’s right to take a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is also unlawful for a covered employer to retaliate against an employee or prospective employee or discriminate against them for exercising (or attempting to exercise) an FMLA right. If you or someone close to you has been subjected to retaliation or discrimination for exercising an FMLA right, or an employer has engaged in any other discrimination in the workplace, contact an experienced employment law attorney to assess your case and review your legal rights and options. Contact Fonteneau Law at (205) 564-9005 or through our website contact form.

Human Resource Employees and Retaliation - Kira Fonteneau Attorney at Law

HR Employees can be victims of Retaliation, Too

Many employees view Human Resources as the enemy, helping management to carry out unfair or discriminatory policies.  Did you know that Human Resources employees who advocate for employees can be the victims of retaliation themselves?

HR Employees May Help Other Employee Victims of Discrimination

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit decided that Title VII protects HR representatives from retaliation in certain situations.  The Case, Gogel v. Kia MFG. of Georgia, Inc., involved an HR employee who received a complaint from an employee.  The employee reported that she felt another woman was being treated more favorably because of a romantic relationship with a senior manager.   When Gogel reported the complaint through her chain of command, she was discouraged from pursuing it.

Later when Gogel complained about being overlooked for a promotion, she concluded that the reason was her prior advocacy for the employee who complained and gender discrimination.  After Gogel filed her Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, management approached her to sign a document promising not to discuss her charge of discrimination, get other employees to give her information about her Charge, or to encourage other people to file Charges against the company.  Later Kia accused Gogel of working with another employee to further their Charges of Discrimination against the company because they had the same lawyer.  The company decided that the unproven allegation she was helping another employee with her Charge violated her duties as a Human Resources employee and terminated her employment.

The Eleventh Circuit decided that Human Resources employees can help the employees they work with sometimes.  The court explained that Title VII protects HR employees who try to resolve employee complaints internally if the employer fails to respond adequately and the HR employees actions were reasonable.

Get Help Before You Make a Decision

The bottom line is that Human Resources employees should not be afraid to advocate for their employees and not just co-sign unlawful behavior by their employers.  It is, however, a good idea to consult with an attorney to determine whether the course of action you propose to take is protected.  Kira Fonteneau is an employment lawyer with several years of experience helping Alabama employees level the playing field against their employers.  If you think you need to discuss an employment issue, call us at 205-564-9005.

Employment Discrimination and workers' rights attorney in alabama

I Believe my Rights have been Violated in the Workplace – What Can I do About It?

Employees who face a difficult work environment are typically under a great deal of stress, and they often have a hard time focusing on their jobs. This could be due to disagreements, disputes, or hostility from a manager, supervisor, co-worker, or multiple parties. Workplace challenges can sometimes be chalked up to personality clashes, differing worldviews, and other common sources of conflict. However, when those disputes arise because of an employee’s membership in a protected class like race, sex, pregnancy religion or national origin, employers and co-workers may cross the line into violating the law.

No matter where you work or what type of job you do, you are entitled to certain rights in the workplace. For example, your workplace should be free of:

  • Safety Hazards: It is the responsibility of every employer to take reasonable measures to ensure a safe work environment. For example, if you work with dangerous machinery or equipment, you should be wearing the appropriate safety gear. You also have a right to expect a workplace free of toxic substances and other hazards that could make you ill.
  • Discrimination: Your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of age, race, gender, religion, disability, national origin, pregnancy, or any other protected class. For example, your employer is not allowed to terminate you, turn you down for a promotion, or deny a pay raise simply because of a protected characteristic.
  • Harassment: You should not have to endure offensive, humiliating, intimidating, or threatening comments or actions because of a protected characteristic. One common example of this is sexual harassment. Whether it is a manager or supervisor harassing an employee, or the employee being harassed by another co-worker, workplace harassment is against the law and should never be tolerated.

What Can I Do If I Believe my Rights have Been Violated in the Workplace?

If you feel that one of your protected rights was violated at work and you wish to take action, you have some options available. These include:

Informal Negotiations

Some employment law violations can be addressed by resolving the issue directly with the employer without the need to take the matter to court. This often involves reporting the concern to the employer and giving them a chance to respond. For example, you may be seeking certain forms of relief; such as being transferred to another department where you won’t have to work around the individual who was harassing you or an adjustment to your pay to conform to what the employer is paying your co-workers.

Filing a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC

If reporting it internally does not work, you may need to take further legal action. For most types of discrimination violations in Alabama, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit. If you think you need to file a Charge, you should contact a lawyer to help you draft your Charge.

The EEOC may investigate your claim, ask you to participate in mediation with your employer, or take other actions. At the end of an investigation, if the EEOC finds conclusively that a violation of law occurred they will make a cause finding and attempt to get the employer to settle with you.  This is rare. Normally, the EEOC simply issues a “right to sue” letter that says it cannot determine that a violation occurred. This does not mean you do not have a case.  It merely gives you the right to file your lawsuit in Court. There are very tight deadlines in which to file an EEOC charge. In Alabama, EEOC Charges must be filed within 180 days from the last act of discrimination or they will be lost forever.

Private Litigation

Once you receive a “right to sue” letter, you can proceed with litigation against your employer. You have only 90 days from the time you receive the Right to Sue Letter to file your lawsuit. When preparing your lawsuit, you must retain as much documentation as possible to prove that your employer violated the law. This may include company documents and emails, photos, the testimony of witnesses, video recordings, audio recordings, and many other things. You should also work with an experienced attorney who knows how to present the facts and evidence in a way that is likely to persuade the court.

Speak to a Skilled Alabama Civil Rights Attorney

If you believe your rights have been violated in the workplace, there are some legal avenues available to you. The first step is to contact an experienced civil rights lawyer. Your lawyer can thoroughly assess your case, advise you of your rights, and review your options.

Since 2005, attorney Kira Fonteneau has been an aggressive advocate on behalf of working people in Alabama who have experienced workplace discrimination. Kira has an in-depth understanding of the state and federal discrimination laws and a successful track record of pursuing these types of cases in both the state and federal courts. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, contact our office today at 205-564-9005 or send us a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.