Report Highlights Sexual Harassment in Medical Schools

Sexual harassment is recognized as a form of unlawful sexual harassment throughout the United States. Despite advances in employees’ ability to fight back against unwanted sexual remarks and advances, it remains a pervasive problem in just about every profession and industry. A recent report in the Washington Post highlights the difficulties faced by many female medical students as they go through the rigorous training required to become doctors. Federal law protects people from sex discrimination and sexual harassment in both the workplace and places of education. The standard medical school curriculum combines both of these, since medical students move from classroom instruction toward practical training in hospitals and clinics. This issue also highlights a difficult situation for unpaid interns, who have no specific protection from sexual harassment under federal law. Some cities, including New York, have enacted laws covering unpaid interns.

In New York City, federal, state, and city laws prohibit workplace sexual harassment. These statutes include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq.; and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. Prohibitions in sex discrimination in education under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., also apply to sexual harassment in academic settings.

On-the-job training is a critical part of medical education. This can blur the line between the workplace and the classroom for medical students, who must perform internships as part of their degree program. Some, but not all, internships qualify as “employment.” Title VII does not necessarily cover unpaid interns, since they do not meet the statute’s definition of employment. See O’Connor v. Davis, 126 F.3d 112 (2d Cir. 1997). A federal court held in 2013 that the NYCHRL similarly does not extend its protections to unpaid interns. Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc., 976 F.Supp.2d 527 (S.D.N.Y 2013). In response to the Wang ruling, the New York City Council amended the NYCHRL to include coverage for unpaid interns in education-related programs. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(28).

The issue of sexual harassment of medical students has come more into focus as the number of women in medical school and the medical profession has gradually increased. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of women applying to medical schools in the U.S. steadily increased from 1975 to 2005, but then it began to decline between 2005 and 2010. Women are reportedly still seriously underrepresented among medical school administrators, department chairs, faculty, and staff. The Washington Post reports that sexual harassment affecting female students and doctors has had “serious detrimental effects,” including “a higher rate of major depression” and a suicide rate about four times the national average for women.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys represent employees, former employees, and job applicants in New York City, advocating for their rights in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled legal team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Several States Follow New York’s Lead in Extending Sexual Harassment Protections to Unpaid Interns, New York Employment Attorney, November 5, 2014

Former Intern Sues New York City Financial Advisor, Firm for Alleged Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney, October 22, 2014

New York City Amends Human Rights Law to Include Sexual Harassment Protections for Unpaid Interns, New York Employment Attorney, March 26, 2014

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