MUHC doctor faces $360K sexual harassment lawsuit from hospital employee
Alleged victim says hospital failed to protect her from more than 2 years of inappropriate behaviour
A respiratory therapist has filed a $360,000 sexual harassment lawsuit against a doctor at the McGill University Health Centre's Montreal General Hospital.
The MUHC employee said she was left with no choice after the hospital and her union both failed to stop the alleged abuse.
The plaintiff claims she was continually harassed by Dr. Richard Robinson, an anesthesiologist she had to work with closely during medical procedures.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday details more than two years of sexually explicit text messages, unwanted touching and even an offer of money in exchange for sex.
"It was very stressful," the woman said in an interview with CBC. "You have to worry for your patient's safety, and at the same time you have to be assisting a doctor that's making these kind of remarks."
CBC is not naming the woman because the court approved a publication ban to protect her identity.
Alleged abuse of power
The alleged abuse began when the woman was freshly out of school, shortly after she started working at the Montreal General Hospital in 2013.
The harassment quickly ramped up, she said, leaving her feeling trapped, unsure of what to do or who to turn to.
She eventually complained to her superior about Robinson's behaviour, at the beginning of 2014.
But nothing changed, she said. In fact, the woman claims Robinson treated it like a joke, telling her he was "untouchable."
"I felt completely stuck," the woman said.
Contact temporarily limited
For part of 2014, the hospital took steps to limit her contact with Robinson.
She worked less frequently at the Montreal General Hospital, and for a short period of time, she had her schedule changed to enable her to avoid him.
Even during that time, Robinson continued to send her text messages.
In the fall of 2014, she was forced to work alongside him again.
During the 2014 holiday season, Robinson sent the woman a Christmas card that showed two naked children warming themselves in front of a fireplace.
Inside it read, "You and me in a past life, in Vladivostok — we had 10 children (6 girls) and lots of sex."
In February 2015, Robinson allegedly followed the woman to a ski resort in the Laurentians.
"Honestly, I was terrified," she said. "Even just walking to my car from work, I would have colleagues walk me because I was so scared he'd intercept me somewhere."
Despite the plaintiff's protests, non-replies to his text messages and expressed lack of interest in him, Robinson continued to invite the woman to spend time with him outside work.
The text messages included in her statement of claim are loaded with sexual innuendo.
She alleges that in the fall of 2015, he asked for sexual favours in exchange for money, which she refused.
For the victim, the tipping point came during the Christmas holiday period in 2015.
In the guise of a secret admirer, Robinson allegedly sent her a huge bouquet of flowers at work, drawing the attention and curiosity of her colleagues.
This prompted her to again complain to her boss. She also denounced Robinson's behaviour to the head of the anesthesiology department at the Montreal General.
In January 2016, the hospital met with Robinson again and launched an internal disciplinary hearing into his conduct.
The woman also went to her union and was told there was no point complaining to the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons, which oversees the professional conduct of doctors.
She said the union claimed the college doesn't investigate sexual harassment.
"That was hard for me to believe," she said. "I wanted to know my rights."
So she hired a lawyer.
The plaintiff says Robinson's alleged harassment only stopped when she started formal proceedings against him.
In an email, the MUHC told CBC, "Dr. Robinson does hold privileges at the MUHC and is currently exercising his activities in the Intensive Care Unit at the Montreal General Hospital."
The woman also went ahead and filed a complaint with the college, which is now investigating the case. A disciplinary hearing is set for 2018.
CBC/Radio-Canada tried to reach Robinson, but he did not respond.
All the allegations have yet to be proven in court.
The woman's lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard, said both the MUHC and the union failed to protect the woman.
Although there are sexual harassment policies in place at the hospital, Ménard said there was no follow-through.
"They were very tolerant," said Ménard. "Very lax. They took a long time to react."
Ménard says the hospital needs to have a zero tolerance policy about complaints from people like his client.
Victims need to be reassured that if they come forward, they will be heard, believed, and action will be taken immediately.
"The problem is, too often, it's the victim who has to quit, and the abuser remains in place," said Ménard.
Unfortunately, he said, it's not the first case he's heard of doctors abusing their power in the workplace.
Because of the authority doctors wield, Ménard said, the hospital has to take a strong stand when complaints are raised.
MUHC doesn't tolerate sexual harassment
The MUHC would not comment on this specific case.
However, in an emailed statement, communications officer Gilda Salomone told CBC, "The MUHC does not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace and is firmly committed to taking the necessary preventive and corrective measures to eliminate such behavior."
Salomone goes on to say, "Sexual harassment complaints or complaints about sexual misconduct regarding physicians, dentists, pharmacists or residents are taken extremely seriously."
The College of Physicians and Surgeons refused to comment because its investigation into the case is still underway.
The woman's union, La Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), said it did try to help her when she came to them with her complaint in January 2016. It said before it took any action, the union was notified that a lawyer had taken over her case.
While the alleged abuse has stopped, the respiratory therapist said she fears she's been traumatized permanently.
She had to see a psychologist and was also on anti-depressants for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It still hasn't completely healed all my scars," she said.
- READ other stories from CBC Montreal Investigates