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Female Doctors at Harbor-UCLA Allege Toxic Work Environment and Retaliation

A female doctor standing in a hospital hallway

Several female physicians at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center have filed an employment lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment and retaliation.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the allegations relate to Dr. Louis Kwong, a high-ranking doctor who is accused of repeatedly making sexually suggestive comments to his female subordinates. 

For example, in 2019, a medical student reported that Kwong entered an operating room to peek “under the hood” and gauge the size of a patient’s genitalia.

Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

Three female doctors at Torrance, California’s Harbor-UCLA Medical Center hospital filed the lawsuit last month. Drs. Haleh Badkoobehi, Jennifer Hsu, and Madonna Fernandez-Frackelton allege years of sexual harassment and retaliation in orthopedics. They said sexism, homophobia, and harassment were openly tolerated within the department, according to the Times.

According to the lawsuit filing, Kwong asked a female faculty member if she wore G-string underwear, asked his secretary if she wore a push-up bra, and regularly used a slur to describe gay people. 

Employees reported numerous other incidents where the surgeon had made inappropriate comments and engaged in similar behavior. Kwong was reportedly placed on administrative leave in the spring of 2022 but earned nearly $1 million that year.

The three women said in the meantime, they have been punished for complaining about his inappropriate conduct. Fernandez-Frackelton said she was stripped of her title as program director of emergency medicine after complaining to the oversight body. 

Badkoobehi said she was removed as associate program director for orthopedic surgery residents after complaining that Kwong had endangered a patient by watching a baseball game on an operating room monitor.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services oversees Harbor-UCLA, which serves as a level 1 trauma center and has close to 600 beds. The lawsuits have been filed against the county as the hospital’s operator.

What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to any unwelcome or inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. 

This can manifest in various forms, including verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct that is sexual in nature and interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an offensive, intimidating, or hostile atmosphere.

Examples of sexual harassment may include unwelcome comments, advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. 

It can occur between individuals of the opposite or same sex and involves a power dynamic, where the harasser may hold a position of authority over the victim.

Preventing sexual harassment is crucial for maintaining a safe and inclusive workplace. Many organizations have policies and procedures in place to address and prevent such behavior. 

Employees who experience sexual harassment should report the incidents to their employer or the appropriate authorities, ensuring that the issue is properly investigated and addressed. 

Legal protections are in place to safeguard individuals from retaliation for reporting or opposing sexual harassment, emphasizing the importance of fostering a work environment free from such inappropriate conduct.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment refers to a workplace atmosphere where discriminatory, harassing, or intimidating behavior is prevalent, making it difficult or unpleasant for an individual to perform their job. 

This can result from various factors, including unwelcome comments, slurs, offensive jokes, or other conduct based on an individual’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics. 

In the context of sexual harassment, a hostile work environment may involve persistent and severe unwanted sexual advances, comments, or actions.

Retaliation, on the other hand, occurs when an employer takes adverse actions against an employee in response to their engagement in protected activities, such as reporting discrimination, harassment, or participating in an investigation. Retaliation can manifest in various forms, including termination, demotion, harassment, or other negative consequences.

In the context of a hostile work environment, employees may fear retaliation for reporting inappropriate behavior or filing a complaint. Legal protections exist to safeguard employees from such retaliation. 

It is essential for organizations to foster a culture that encourages reporting of workplace misconduct and ensures that individuals who come forward are protected against any form of reprisal. Establishing clear anti-retaliation policies and promoting a culture of open communication is crucial in maintaining a healthy and inclusive work environment.

What to Do If You Are Facing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

If you are facing sexual harassment in the workplace, taking prompt and assertive action is crucial to protect yourself and address the issue effectively. Here are important steps to consider:

  • Document the incidents. Keep a detailed record of each instance of harassment, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of the behavior. Save any relevant emails, messages, or other evidence.
  • Review company policies. Familiarize yourself with your company’s policies on sexual harassment. This information will guide you on how to report the harassment and what steps the company should take to address the situation.
  • Report to a supervisor or human resources. Report the harassment to your supervisor, human resources department, or another appropriate authority within the organization. Provide them with the documented evidence and a clear description of the incidents.
  • Seek support. Talk to friends or family members you trust about your experience. Having a support system can be crucial during this challenging time.
  • Reach out to an experienced employment lawyer. If the harassment persists or if the response from your employer is inadequate, consult with an attorney specializing in employment law. A knowledgeable employment lawyer can provide guidance on your rights and potential courses of action.

At Bisnar Chase, our team has an employment law department that focuses solely on workplace violations. We have won millions of dollars for our clients while providing the support and guidance that you need when facing a toxic workplace. Contact us for a free consultation.



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