Harassment: When you're the victim

January 19, 2007

Thanks to laws that protect against abuse, there's no need to suffer in silence. Here's how to fight back.

These are just some of the workplace comments that were directed toward anesthesiologist Nadia Nathan, according to her allegations in a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) against Brigham and Women's Hospital. She also maintains that she was subjected to comments and gestures about her "tits" as well as to aggressive pulling on her hospital gown.

From 1998 until 2004, the Egyptian-born single mother of three claims she was treated quite differently from her colleagues. In her complaint, she says she was subjected to unwarranted disparagement; passed over for assignments in favor of less experienced male physicians; limited in the amount of time she could work in the cardiac operating room; and restricted in terms of research support and resources, although her colleagues' work was well supported.

After she informed her supervisors that she might file a complaint with the MCAD, Nathan says she was placed on unpaid leave and told she'd never be permitted to return to her duties in the cardiac operating room. (In a statement provided to Medical Economics, Brigham and Women's Hospital noted that it takes seriously any complaint of discrimination, but would not comment on pending legal issues.)

Gloria Farina was a young girl when she emigrated from Cuba. Raised in south Florida, she went to medical school in Texas before becoming an ED physician. She worked for 13 years at a trauma facility in Dallas before returning to Miami. From 1995 to early 2000, Farina was the only female physician in Emergency Medicine Associates (EMA), a group that serves as the emergency department staff of Indian River Memorial Hospital in Vero Beach.

Almost from the beginning, Farina says, two of the group's doctors created a hostile work environment by regularly making crude sexual remarks and jokes. "They'd make comments about my appearance, as well as about other staff members and even patients, and also talk about their sexual experiences and fantasies." She describes numerous instances of inappropriate behavior, such as the time a doctor was told he had shaving cream on his face and ears and he asked Farina if she'd "lick it off."

In addition to the steady stream of sexual references, Farina says she was also routinely asked whether she was going to have children and if she would continue working. "The male doctors would question me about why I didn't just get pregnant and stay home since I was married to a doctor," says Farina. After she had her first child and returned to work, the situation intensified. "I got the worst shifts and didn't get bonuses that the other doctors received," she explains. "I was assigned to acute care, which usually pays more than the ED, except I was paid less." Why didn't she just quit and find a new job? "I felt strongly that I hadn't done anything wrong and that they should be the ones to leave."