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Doctors / Psychiatrists / Psychologists Sexual Harassment (Defense)

It takes several years and large sums of money to earn the right to work as a healthcare worker or physician. When a patient complains to the state medical license board, a civil lawyer, a reporter or to the police, accusing you of sexual harassment, your income, assets and reputation can be jeopardised, regardless of your innocence. With advance notice, your board license defense attorney can implement effective, proactive defense strategies before the news hits the front pages.

Patients frequently target doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists for sexual misconduct complaints. As a healthcare provider, a patient can easily develop feelings of attraction. Pair a crush with mental instability, psychiatric disability and prescription drug addiction, and you have a cocktail for disaster.

Recently, a trend of outright extortion has swept through the country, fueled by patients (and some attorneys) who will do anything to exploit their high net worth target and news outlets that see the sensation the career-winning headline "Local Physician Charged" will bring. Be aware that unlike police, reporters are not required to stop questioning once you refer them to your attorney. In fact, they will continue questioning until they goad you until you become angry at the false accusations. An angry outburst may be a natural reaction, but a wonderfully scandalous news story.

Sex and money tend to sell, and they don't care whether you're guilty or innocent. Sadly, while the law regards you as innocent until proven guilty, but once the media spotlight shines on you, police investigative procedures presume that you are guilty.

Handling Sexual Harassment Accusations as a Doctor / Psychiatrist / Psychologist

It is important not to say anything if:

  • a patient may threaten to file a complaint of sexual misconduct
  • a superior or the hospital's HR department advises you of a patient complaint
  • if their lawyer reaches out to ask questions
  • if a journalist makes an inquiry
  • or if the police stop by to "just talk".

Probably the worst thing you can do, is to reach out to the patient to reach a quick settlement. It is obvious that there is already a disconnect in the doctor-patient relationship, and although it is probably a matter of miscommunication, there is anger, fear and possibly outright deceit at play. By making contact in person, you open the door to potentially career-ending claims of stalking, threatening or bribing. Unfortunately, juries tend to side with scared "victims" over "arrogant" doctors all too often.

Instead, contact a Sexual Harassment Attorney with experience in dealing with doctor / psychiatrist / psychologist sexual misconduct who can help clear your name and defend you against medical sexual misconduct claims. A sexual misconduct claim is the biggest threat to a healthcare provider's career.

The person informing you of the claim will be paying careful attention to your reaction, along with taking notes to preserve your initial response and your answers might be taken out of context. At this point, it is best to remain calm and unequivocally deny the acts. Simply request the investigator's name and contact information and let them know that your lawyer will be in touch.  If your hospital requires a written response, consult a lawyer for assistance in drawing up a logical, coherent and measured response.

The police may not search your premises, home or vehicle without a warrant, and it is important that you do not give them permission to do so - even if you know that you have nothing to hide. If they wish to question them, do not answer any questions until your lawyer is present. When someone is accused of a crime, the police have some leeway in terms of tricking them into a confession, so do not believe everything they might tell you. Simply exercise your right to remain silent and avoid making light conversation or banter with anyone.

When a healthcare professional first becomes aware of an accusation of sexual harassment in the workplace or towards a patient, his or her first instinct is often to offer a settlement or rely on a stellar reputation to beat the allegations. Naturally, you will want to clear your name as fast as humanly possible. However, both options can potentially end in disaster.

Faced with sexual harassment claims, a doctor has several immediate challenges:

  • Potential police investigation and criminal charges
  • Potential licence revocation by the Medical Board of California
  • Potential financial liability in a civil lawsuit filed by the alleged victim
  • Potential copycat complaints from aggrieved patients (as well as others looking for a good pay-day)
  • Reporters looking for sensational headlines.

In light of the recent wave of sexual abuse claims, the Medical Board of California has stepped up its investigation of accusations and complaints. A sexual misconduct claim against a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist in California can have terrible consequences for the medical professional, including criminal charges, loss of hospital privileges, and a revocation of their Physician and Surgeon License and essentially, their right to practice medicine.

Workplace sexual harassment can also occur when you or a co-worker or one of your employees engage in sexually inappropriate actions in the workplace. Such conduct can interfere with someone's ability to do their job and create a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.

Sexual harassment is addressed in both state and federal laws and you could face serious consequences as a result of the accusations.

What is Considered Doctor / Psychiatrist / Psychologist Sexual Harassment?

Two different categories of sexual harassment are recognized under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, namely:

Quid pro quo harassment is when a person of higher ranking in a company requests sexual favors in order to enjoy some work-related benefits or to keep their job.

Hostile work environment harassment, which involves one or more coworkers (not necessary a senior ranking employee) engaging in sexual conduct such as making inappropriate jokes, touching or grabbing which created an offensive atmosphere in the workplace.

Sexual misconduct is prohibited by the California Business & Professions Code (Section 726) with the broad definition which includes, but is not limited to:

  • sexual assault
  • sexual battery
  • sexual abuse
  • indecent exposure
  • sexual relations with a customer, client or patient
  • lewd conduct
  • lewd acts with a child
  • solicitation of prostitution
  • oral copulation
  • penetration by foreign object
  • and rape.

The law prohibits sexual relationships between a doctor and a patient, even if it is consensual. If a medical professional is found guilty of such a relationship, he or she may face disciplinary action. The Medical Board of California also prohibits sexual exploitation of patients by doctors or physicians. It is crucial for any medical professional who is facing sexual misconduct or sexual abuse allegations to retain a sexual harassment attorney who has experience in representing medical professionals in licence defence cases.

Medical license defense attorneys are experienced in handling some of the most complex cases, as sexual misconduct complaints against doctors involve simultaneous moving parts, including:

  • police investigations
  • criminal charges
  • reputation concerns
  • civil financial liability
  • and medical licensing board proceedings.

Sexual Harassment & Misconduct Investigation and Defense

Most often, a consumer will file a sexual harassment complaint with the Medical Board of California. However, it can also start as the result of a sting operation, criminal investigation or criminal conviction referral.

The Medical Board of California investigators are civilians who are not sworn, and their investigations are non-criminal in nature. Sworn peace officers conduct California's Department of Consumer Affairs administrative or criminal law violation investigations of sexual harassment involving medical professionals. Note that there are substantial differences between due process rights in criminal and administrative law.

Once the investigation is concluded, the Medical Board of California has a number of options, including:

  • closing the complaint
  • issuing a citation
  • referring the complaint to the California Attorney General's Office or t the District Attorney's Office.

If the case is referred to the Attorney General's Office, the office will decide whether or not a formal disciplinary accusation should be filed. In cases of sexual misconduct with a patient that involve criminal conduct, the District Attorney's Office may refer it for criminal prosecution.

An attorney who understands the various challenges a doctor faces during disciplinary action as the result of sexual misconduct allegations filed by a patient can help preserve your reputation and ensure that your rights are protected.

After a complaint, the MBC will serve a formal notice to the accused doctor of psychologist of the board's intention to revoke his or her license. In most cases, a substantiated allegation of patient sexual misconduct against a medical professional results in a disciplinary accusation filing. A formal accusation is serious and can result in license revocation. However, it is possible for the medical professional - with the help of an experienced attorney - to reach a stipulated agreement or settlement agreement with the Medical Board of California and the Attorney General's Office.

If the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement, a formal hearing will be held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the California Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at one of their court locations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento or Oakland. Some hearings may be held offsite in San Francisco, San Bernardino, Orange County, Fresno, Bakersfield, Ventura or San Jose.

Administrative Law Judge must issue a written Proposed Decision approximately thirty days after the date of the hearing, and the Medical Board of California will have the option to accept, modify, adopt or reject the Judge's decision, which will then become the MBC's Final Decision and Order.

A medical professional may appeal the Final Decision and Order in two ways:

  1. Pursuant to California Government Code § 11521, a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist may appeal via a Petition for Reconsideration. This appeal must take place before the Final Decision and Order comes into effect.
  2. California Code of Civil Procedure § 1094.5 allows the medical professional to file a Petition for Writ of Mandamus. The write is filed with the Superior Court and should be done within thirty days from that date on which the Final Decision and Order comes into effect.

The MBC has jurisdiction to discipline doctors and medical professionals for allegations for sexual harassment or misconduct that violate administrative law regulation and rise to the level of criminal activity as well as for certain criminal convictions. This is a disciplinary process which is separate from the process followed by criminal law, and their disciplinary scope involves criminal convictions that relate to medical qualifications and the duties and functions of a doctor. Sexual misconduct crimes that involve patients fall in this ambit.

If a doctor is charged with serious criminal conduct and the case is pending in criminal court, the Attorney General's Office and the MBC may seek to suspend the doctor's license in criminal court with a California Penal Code § 23 Order.

Defenses to Doctor / Psychiatrist / Psychologist Sexual Harassment Claims

Many claims of medical sexual misconduct stem from the fact that most patients don't understand medical procedures, and therefore mistake procedural touch for intimate touch.

Your medical board license defence attorney will challenge the credibility of the witnesses as well as every piece of evidence while employing a variety of strategies to defend your rights. The most common and complete legally-accepted defenses used by doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists charged with sexual harassment and medical sexual misconduct include:

  • consent
  • extortion
  • and clinically appropriate conduct.

Sexual Harassment Attorneys understand that medical sexual misconduct cases are some of the most complex matters to navigate. Your lawyer has to carefully balance the moving parts of your case, including civil suits, criminal prosecutions, license revocation hearings and managing your reputation simultaneously. While you have the Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions in a medical license revocation hearing and in a criminal case, it may not be admissible in the criminal case, but will be held against you during the medical license hearing.

Sexual Harassment Lawyer will aggressively fight for your rights and help restore your license to practice as well as your reputation. Call 800-905-1856 now to speak to a specialist Sexual Harassment Attorney about your medical sexual misconduct case today.

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