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Dentist Sexual Harassment (Plaintiff)

Sexual harassment complaints have made national and international headlines in recent months, particularly in the entertainment industry.  But although it is not that common, even the dentistry has not been impervious to complaints of sexual misconduct against patients or in the workplace. Although many strong advocates have come forward and paved the way for victims of sexual abuse (women in particular) to come forward with their allegations, various reports show that there is still a major discrepancy between the number of incidents and the number of cases that are actually reported.

Sexual harassment does not always cross gender lines, but can also apply to same-sex harassment. While men are often portrayed as perpetrators and women as the victims, it is actually surprisingly common for men to be victimized as well.

It's not uncommon for a victim of sexual harassment to experience self-doubt, especially if the perpetrator was a trusted person, such as your dentist. You might be wondering whether you have misinterpreted his or her intent, and whether anyone would take you seriously. If your family has been using the same dentist for years, it may be truly difficult to tell them what had happened, and if you are employed by the dentist, you might have serious concerns about how blowing the whistle will affect your career in the future.

Sexual harassment by a dentist is particularly heinous, since it violates public trust. Dentists are held to a similarly high standard of conduct as other healthcare providers and patients trust them when they are at their most vulnerable. In recent months, cases of dentist-patient and dentist-hygienist sexual harassment have made the headlines. If your dentist fails to live up to the expected standards, you have a right to seek compensation. Likewise, if you are employed by a dentist who makes your workplace intolerable, you may seek damages. Dentist sexual misconduct towards patients and employees is prohibited by law and a dental professional can lose his or her license to practice, as well as a variety of other rights and privileges by being found guilty.

In some cases, sexual harassment cases are not addressed by companies after it was reported, and sometimes, it actually escalates. Often, situations that could have been resolved with a frank conversation about boundaries and what constitutes appropriate behavior, however, it continues because it goes unreported. Without reporting the incident to management, the employee has no support and is not empowered handle the situation.

It is the employee's responsibility to report incidents of sexual harassment to a manager or to the human resources department. Many dentistries are small, doctor-run practices that lack the infrastructure of hospitals, for instance. There often is no legal team or human resources department that can help set the appropriate  guidelines and policies. In a private practice, a dental hygienist or administrator must report incidents in which a patient harasses them to the dentist.

Everyone might interpret the same behavior differently, which is why it is important to refer to the workplace harassment laws that form part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII. These laws prohibit all types of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The federal government has established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce and regulate discrimination laws. Only companies that employ a certain number of people - usually fifteen or more - can be covered. However, even individuals who work in smaller practices have protection, and civil law offers an effective alternative.

What is Dentist Sexual Harassment?

The term harassment refers to any unwelcome physical, verbal or written conduct that creates an intimidating or hostile environment, particularly in the workplace. Quid pro quo is the most common form of workplace harassment. This occurs when an employee feels coerced to comply with the sexual demands of a superior in order to avoid negative employment decision or to secure favorable economic benefits, such as continued employment, increased pay or a promotion.

Employers are required by law under Government Code Section 12940(k) to take measures to prevent sexual harassment from occuring in the workplace, and supervisors must report any allegations of sexual misconduct to management. Employers or supervisors may not advise against reporting sexual harassment to human resources.

Sexual harassment of a dentist's patient can take many forms. Ultimately, it hinges on any unwelcome physical contact, verbal comments, suggestions or invitations made by the dentists, dental hygienist or dental assistant, or other staff members. The law requires that the conduct must be:

  • unwelcome
  • pervasive (repetitive, ongoing)
  • or severe.

Recently, cases have come to the fore where victims were sexually assaulted while they were under anaesthesia. Since they were unconscious, they were unable to testify or prove the assault, especially without corroborating evidence. In this situation, victims may be ashamed and they typically feel vulnerable and humiliated and unwilling to come forward with their suspicions.

Individuals who suspect that they were sexually abused while unconscious should be encouraged to obtain medical evaluations and report the incident to the police and the state licensing board. An investigation by the Medical Board of California can have severe consequences for a dentist found guilty of sexual harassment. The punishments can range from:

  • license suspension
  • loss of hospital privileges
  • license revocation in severe cases.

Dental Practice Liability for Sexual Harassment

In some instances, a dental practice can be held liable for sexual harassment, even in cases where the owner carried no knowledge of the incident. If a case succeeds, assets of the practice may be attached in order to satisfy the imposed judgment. The owner of the practice may assert a lack of knowledge of the harassment, but the jury may find that he or she should have known about it.

Liability is imposed especially in cases where:

  • facts regarding the harassment is general knowledge in the office;
  • when a supervisor is also the harasser;
  • when the supervisor is aware of the harassment but fails to take action;
  • or when the supervisor fails to inform the owners or managers about the complaint.

In these situations, the supervisor is placed in a position of authority, which makes the practice legally responsible for any misdeeds committed by the supervisor. A supervisor typically has direct control over the recruitment of subordinates and generally recommends disciplinary procedures to the owners of the practice.

Therefore, if the owner of the practice claims ignorance in spite of the fact that the facts are common knowledge, the court will conclude that he or she is deliberately ignorant or turning a blind eye to the sexual harassment.

When a supervisor commits the sexual harassment, the practice can also be held responsible for placing the perpetrator in a position of authority. The practice will be held responsible for the supervisor's misdeeds. 

Hostile work environment harassment is when coworkers or superiors engage in pervasive or serious unwelcome conduct that causes unreasonable interference with one's ability to function in the workplace. It could include:

  • offensive contact (verbal, physical or both)
  • physical exposure
  • threats
  • pervasive inappropriate humor or conversation
  • displaying or distributing offensive materials
  • unwelcome comments about one's appearance
  • requests or demands for sexual favors
  • repeated unwelcome invitations
  • habits of "accidental" touching
  • innuendo, etc.

Mild, isolated incidents are not typically considered harassment, and neither is teasing or offhand comments. However, you are within your rights to speak up in a firm, yet polite manner. It happens that a victim's witty retort becomes more fuel for inappropriate banter, so it is best to seriously, yet confidently set the professional boundaries to nip it in the bud.

It is important to place the harasser on notice as soon as the conduct occurs. The court will consider how easy it is for the victim to leave the relationship without experiencing hardship as a result. An employer who makes repeated sexual demands, or a dentist who harasses a patient before performing oral surgery constitute difficult situations to leave.

If the behavior escalates despite your repeated requests for it to stop, you will be forced to escalate matters. Management would be your first port of call, and if they fail to respond, the EEOC - if your practice has fifteen or more employees - or the Medical Board of California should be your next stop. It is important to take swift action, because statutes of limitations apply to sexual harassment claims against dentists. Once the limitations have expired, you can no longer file a complaint.

Don't be afraid to take action, because it is unlawful for dentists to retaliate or take negative employment actions against employees who file claims of harassment against them.

Dentist Sexual Harassment and California Civil Code 51.9

California sexual harassment laws afford victims the right to sue if they have experienced sexual harassment in the context of a professional relationship, service of business, including doctor-patient relationships. In this instance, the term doctor covers a wide variety of healthcare providers, including dentists, orthodontists, dental hygienists and dental administrators as well as allied doctors in other specialist fields.

Anyone who is sexually harassed by a dentist or a third party at the dental practice has the right to file a civil lawsuit. The main requirement is that the behavior is:

  • unwanted
  • severe
  • and or pervasive.

Pervasive behavior occurs on a frequent basis. You can however sue for an isolated incident if it can be considered severe, which in most cases involve physical assault, or a threat of physical assault.

In terms of filing a civil case, the law will consider personal injury. Sexual harassment often includes emotional distress and a violation of constitutional or statutory rights. One of those rights is the right to be free from discrimination based on gender in terms of employment or housing.

While an employee who suffers sexual harassment in the workplace will file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a dental patient who has experienced sexual harassment at the hands of a dentist can go directly to the Medical Board of California or a sexual harassment lawyer.

Dentist Sexual Harassment Help for Victims

If your dentist or dental staff sexually harasses or assaults you, legal recourse is at hand in both civil and criminal court. To file a criminal charge, you must report the incident to your local police.

In more serious cases - depending on the crime -, you may be required to provide evidence in the form of photographs. While this is required for rape, it may not be necessary in less severe cases. The state of California has a Victim's Compensation fund that can provide financial assistance, if required.

State laws determine the timelines for filing a lawsuit. Your attorney may want to include professional negligence or medical malpractice to the sexual harassment suit, and some of these charges have shorter deadlines. It's therefore important to file your complaints sooner rather than later.

A personal injury, medical malpractice or sexual harassment attorney can help guide you through a civil case from initiation to settlement.

Help for Victims of Dentist Sexual Harassment

If you have experienced dentist sexual harassment in California, know that you are not alone. Although harassment has mostly gone unreported in the past, victims have gone before you and cleared the path so that you can be heard. You deserve justice and compensation for any losses you have suffered as a result of the abuse.

It is also important to know that laws are there to protect you from sexual harassment and retaliation. Whether you are an employee or a patient, Sexual Harassment Attorney will listen to your case and provide a decisive plan of action to bring swift justice and the maximum compensation available to you. Together, we can stand up against this behavior and prevent it from happening to other unsuspecting victims.

Don't delay until the statutes of limitations run out. Get in touch with the Sexual Harassment Attorney offices today. Call us on 800-905-1856 now to schedule an appointment for an initial case review conducted by one of our specialist personal injury lawyers specializing in sexual harassment.

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