Gifford Medical Center Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Gifford Medical Center has settled out of court with a former employee who had filed a lawsuit accusing the Randolph hospital of retaliating against her for reporting sexual harassment from her former supervisor.

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Donna D. Ladka, a former clinical manager and medical assistant at Gifford Medical Center, filed a legal complaint in U.S. District Court in Burlington last year, alleging that she had been unfairly fired from her position after reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Dr. Richard Graham, who was not a defendant in these particular filings, had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior and provided sub-standard patient care in his work as a urologist.

According to the complaint, which was filed under Vermont’s whistleblower protection laws as well as Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, Graham’s behavior included “frequently viewing pornography on [Graham’s] computers and displaying erotic literature in his office.” Ladka also alleged a series of lapses in patient care on the part of Graham, including insufficient record-keeping and performing “a surgical procedure while on a telephone conference call with an ear bud in one ear,” the lawsuit said.

After learning of the EEOC investigation, Graham refused to speak to Ladka—despite his position as her supervisor—and relegated her to secretarial work, despite her qualifications and experience as a medical assistant, the complaint said.

After reporting Graham’s actions, Ladka—a 15-year employee of the hospital—was fired following accusations that she had violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPAA). She denies this accusation.

Prior to her reporting of Graham’s actions to the EEOC in May 2014, evaluations of Ladka’s onthe job performance were “positive and complimentary of her acumen as a care provider,” according to her complaint, which sought awards for back pay, lost wages and benefits, and other punitive damages.

Responding to her 2014 report, the EEOC would grant Ladka a “Right to Sue Letter” for sexual harassment and discrimination in June 2017.

In a finding that appears to support Ladka’s allegations of insufficient patient care, Graham—who did not respond to request for comment— was found in 2017 to have recorded operative procedures in a manner “lacking in specificity” by the Vermont Board of Medical Practice.

“It is difficult to ascertain the exact procedure that [Graham] had performed,” the board’s filing said.

The filing, dated January 4, 2017, concluded that it was “unacceptable medical practice” for Graham to inadequately document his treatment of patients, and inadequately document patients’ informed consent to surgical procedures.

As part of its disciplinary actions toward Graham, who did not dispute the findings, the board imposed a $2,000 administrative penalty and a requirement to complete a continuing medical education course on record keeping, as well as another on medical ethics, boundaries, and professionalism, state records show.

Gifford Medical Center CEO Dan Bennett declined to comment on the lawsuit. Richard Graham and Donna Ladka were also unavailable for comment.

-- DYLAN KELLEY
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