Latest Sexual Harassment Revelations a Bitter Pill for Yale School of Medicine

On Saturday, The New York Times broke a story about sexual harassment at the prestigious Yale School of Medicine.  The information brought to light by NYT is shocking and troubling on two fronts.

First is the nature of the allegations.  According to NYT, the former Head of Cardiology at YSOM inappropriately pursued a junior researcher and later tried to retaliate against her boyfriend, who was another cardiologist under his supervision.  Yale’s Head of Cardiology first wrote a graphic love letter to the researcher, suggesting that a romantic relationship could advance her career.  When she rebuffed his advances and later moved to another academic institution, Yale’s Head of Cardiology shifted aim, targeting the career of the researcher’s boyfriend (now husband).  Their relationship became so contentious that another doctor at YSOM had to take over supervisory responsibilities to protect the researcher’s boyfriend from the retaliatory acts.  What’s especially shocking and troubling about these revelations is that Yale allowed this Head of Cardiology to continue to succeed and advance in his career while the victims of his harassment and retaliation – the junior researcher and her boyfriend – suffered professional setbacks and pursued jobs elsewhere.

Even more shocking and troubling, though, is the University’s response to these allegations.  The researcher and her boyfriend first brought their concerns to YSOM.  When the medical school failed to address them, the couple filed a formal complaint with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.  The UWC investigated the complaint and found that the Head of Cardiology had sexually harassed and created a hostile work environment for the researcher.  Although the UWC recommended that the Head of Cardiology by permanently removed, Yale University’s Provost stepped in to protect the Head of Cardiology by reducing his sentence to an 18-month suspension.  Indeed, it was only after NYT contacted Yale for comment on these revelations that the University announced the Head of Cardiology “had decided” not to return to his post.

Since the story broke, several members of the University community have offered an explanation for the University’s alarming decision to reject the proposed sentence and show the harasser leniency.  According to Yale Daily News, the decision may have been financial: the Head of Cardiology brought in millions in research grants, adding over $1.5M in revenue to the University’s bottom line in each of the past five years.  Others at the medical school have offered a more basic explanation: YSOM is a place where “men wield power” and where administrators are indifferent to the safety, comfort, and success of women on the faculty.

Similar concerns prompted a group of students to file a Title IX complaint against Yale in 2011 alleging a hostile work environment for female students.  That complaint resulted in a voluntary resolution agreement designed to remedy the effects of any sexual misconduct.  In response to these recent revelations about YSOM, the University has convened a Task Force on Gender Equity to examine and address the barriers to success for women faculty working there.  All eyes are on Yale University as it works to cultivate an equitable environment and develop meaningful mechanisms for relief when women faculty encounter sexism in the workplace.

Lauren Hartz

Lauren Hartz is an attorney who cares deeply about women's rights and about social justice causes. She also cares deeply about dachshunds.

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