When Allegations and the Court of Public Opinion Collide

A recent report appearing in the Kansas City Star is troubling on many levels. The report details allegations filed in a lawsuit in which a medical assistant who worked at a medical facility suffered sexual harassment at the hands of a physician employed by the practice. The allegations contained in the complaint, if proven true, are disgusting and disturbing.

The online news article discussing the allegations continued in the lawsuit presumes that the doctor is guilty of the claims and questions why the relevant licensing authorities have not suspended the doctor from practicing medicine. The reporter for the Kansas City Star acknowledged that the doctor, who was the subject of the litigation, remained in good standing with both states in which he held licenses to practice as a medical doctor.

The reporter’s opinion on the matter brings to light a common misconception held by the public, and the reporter does little, if anything, to alter a prevailing opinion. Conversely, the reporter’s opinion is quite clear and feeds fuel on the firestorm created by the story. The reporter holds the opinion the doctor must be guilty because a woman made the allegations and, therefore, the doctor should be suspended from practice immediately irrespective of the whether the licensing authorities have initiated disciplinary proceedings.

The allegations paint a very vivid picture, and the picture is not pretty. The female medical assistant who filed the civil action alleges that the male doctor made sexual advances and touched her in a sexually suggestive way in the office and front of her colleagues. The suit alleges that the management of the medical practice did nothing to defend the woman.

The despicable behavior continued according to the allegations in the suit. The doctor made even more aggressive advances by holding her hips and pressing his body into her buttocks. Another employee saw what transpired, and that person contacted the organization’s Human Resources department and reported the offensive, even criminal behavior.

The physician is not employed by the company any longer. There was no information on whether the police were looking into criminal charges. The female medical assistant did not deserve to be treated that way; no one does. She did the right thing by suing the practice and the doctor.

The writer of the article assumes that the facts alleged are real, and therein lies the problem. What if those allegations are false or exaggerated?  The facts continued in the report appear to be convincing and even compelling. After all, who would go through the hassle of fabricating such vile behavior?

Therein lies the problem strictly from a licensing point of view. The doctor is entitled to defend against these allegations before the licensing authority and in civil court. The licensing authority must find credible evidence before rendering discipline against the doctor. The licensing authorities in issue should not, and cannot, rely solely upon the uncorroborated factual allegations contained in a complaint about money damages as grounds to discipline the doctor.

There are two overarching reasons why licensing authorities cannot rely on the facts contained in a civil action to summarily discipline any professional licensee. First, there is no standard of proof to allegations in a civil complaint. Therefore, the complainant can state whatever she wants without retribution. Also, the doctor has no opportunity to conduct discovery or cross-examine the witnesses bringing the complaint. Second, the doctor has constitutional protections that guarantee a fair hearing. The court of public opinion might disagree. However, professional licensees have a right to have complaints adjudicated by a fair and neutral magistrate. Some might argue that it is putting form over function. Notwithstanding, due process guarantees fair hearings even though the licensee might not deserve it.

Aggressive Defense for Professional Licensees

Missouri Professional Licensing Defense Attorney Danielle Sanger provides a vigorous defense to all professional licensees facing discipline in Kansas and Missouri. Call 785-979-4353 to find out more.