Health system faces claim of sexual harassment

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A former employee says she was harassed by a male patient. Troutdale medical center denies it created a hostile work environment.

By Staff Reports

TROUTDALE — A former receptionist at a Troutdale medical center alleges in a federal lawsuit that she was sexually harassed by a male patient during her employment there in 2009 and 2010.
A lawsuit on her behalf was filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, against Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Inc.
The commission claims the clinic violated federal law by subjecting a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment. The allegations are denied in a response by the medical center, filed Oct. 19.
Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems consists of a regional group of eight non‑profit community healthcare centers.
The lawsuit alleges that employee Karen Ross was subjected to sexual harassment by a male patient during April-December in 2009, and June-September of 2010.
“The suit alleges that the harassment included unwelcome sexual comments, such as the patient inviting Ross to ‘run away with’ him, telling Ross that he was ‘visualizing [her] naked,’ and suggesting that Ross have sex with him,” the EEOC said in a news release.
“The suit further alleges that the comments were made both in person, when the patient visited the facility where Ross worked and by telephone when the patient called in to the facility.”
The EEOC said that Ross complained to her supervisor, but nothing was done to stop the alleged abusive conduct.
“Defendant took no action to stop the harassment and the harassment continued until Ross’ husband made a complaint’ on Ross’ behalf to one of defendant’s managers,” the lawsuit states.
The male patient was released by the medical center after the husband’s complaint, according to the lawsuit and defendant’s response.
The response filed by attorney Cameron S. Bell of Abingdon states that the medical center took action when it was notified  by Ross’ husband about alleged harassment.
The medical center responded that the alleged harassment was not based on Ross’ gender, and that it was “not sufficient or severe enough to alter Ross’ conditions of employment or to create an abusive work environment.”
The defense contends that the medical center did not receive notice of alleged harassment, and that the center “had a sexual harassment policy that Ms. Ross did not follow.”
“The defendant is not liable for the conduct of third parties under the circumstances,” the response said. “When the defendant was made aware of the alleged harassment, it took immediate steps to sever ties with the patient.”
The EEOC filed suit Sept. 6 after, it said, first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through a conciliation process.
The EEOC asks the court to aware unspecified compensatory damages and punitive damages on behalf of Ross, and to grant a permanent injunction requiring the defendant not to allow a sexually hostile work environment.
The medical center’s response says that Ross and the EEOC are not entitled to damages.