Le­high in­ves­ti­ga­tion clears doc­tor at well­ness cen­ter

No ev­i­dence sup­port­ing fired med­i­cal as­sis­tant’s al­le­ga­tions, univer­sity tells stu­dents, staffers in email

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Hall

An in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no ev­i­dence to sup­port al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and misconduct against a Le­high Univer­sity Health and Well­ness Cen­ter doc­tor, the univer­sity said in an email to its stu­dents and staff last week.

The ac­cu­sa­tions, raised in a law­suit by a for­mer med­i­cal as­sis­tant who claimed she was fired for com­plain­ing, were in­ves­ti­gated through ex­ten­sive in­ter­views and re­views of health cen­ter records, the email said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no ev­i­dence of misconduct or in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact in­volv­ing Dr. Thomas No­vak, a se­nior med­i­cal staff mem­ber who has been sus­pended since the univer­sity be­came aware of the law­suit in June.

“Sim­i­larly, there is no ev­i­dence of any be­hav­ior that en­dan­gered stu­dents, vi­o­lated pa­tient ex­am­i­na­tion and pa­tient care poli­cies, or that did not com­port with the Cen­ter’s stan­dards of care,” the univer­sity’s email says.

The email, signed by Vice Pres­i­dent for Stu­dent Af­fairs Ri­cardo Hall and Equal Op­por­tu­nity Com­pli­ance Co­or­di­na­tor Karen Salvem­ini, says the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will be the sub­ject of a

fi­nal re­port, and more in­for­ma­tion will be re­leased when it is fin­ished. The univer­sity re­leased the pre­lim­i­nary in­for­ma­tion “to as­sure the cam­pus com­mu­nity that the Health & Well­ness Cen­ter is a safe en­vi­ron­ment for our stu­dents,” the email says.

Univer­sity spokes­woman Lori Fried­man said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­ducted by El­liott Green­leaf, a law firm ex­pe­ri­enced in in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions for or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion. The fi­nal re­port will be de­liv­ered to the equal op­por­tu­nity com­pli­ance co­or­di­na­tor but will not be made pub­lic to pro­tect the pri­vacy of those in­volved, Fried­man said.

Chris­tine Feit, a med­i­cal as­sis­tant who worked at the health cen­ter from 2008 un­til she was fired in May 2017, al­leged she was a tar­get of sex­u­ally charged com­ments by No­vak about her cloth­ing and body. It also says that Feit heard No­vak make lewd re­marks about stu­dents’ bod­ies, email in­ap­pro­pri­ate jokes and speak openly about his sex­ual de­sires of celebri­ties.

Feit said she also com­plained that No­vak was in­ap­pro­pri­ately per­form­ing breast ex­ams on stu­dents and had to be re­minded to wear gloves dur­ing pelvic ex­ams, “be­cause he would at­tempt to pro­ceed with­out them as per pro­to­col,” the suit al­leges.

The suit says Feit and other health cen­ter staff com­plained to Le­high Univer­sity hu­man re­sources of­fi­cials about No­vak’s al­leged misconduct in 2012 and 2016. On each oc­ca­sion, No­vak tear­fully apol­o­gized, but no ac­tion was taken to ad­dress his be­hav­ior, the suit says. Feit al­leges that af­ter the sec­ond meet­ing, she was fired for al­legedly mak­ing er­rors when treat­ing stu­dents, the suit says. It claims her fir­ing was ac­tu­ally in re­sponse to her com­plaints about No­vak’s ha­rass­ment and misconduct.

Le­high Univer­sity’s lawyer has filed a mo­tion to dis­miss the law­suit, not­ing that both the Penn­syl­va­nia Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion and the U.S. Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sion re­jected Feit’s com­plaints be­cause she waited too long to file them. Un­der fed­eral law, a per­son who com­plains about ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion must do so through those agen­cies be­fore fil­ing a civil law­suit, so Feit’s case should be dis­missed, the univer­sity’s lawyers ar­gue.

The univer­sity also ar­gues Feit’s law­suit doesn’t make a case on first im­pres­sion that her fir­ing was a re­sult of com­plain­ing about No­vak’s al­leged misconduct. No rul­ing has been made on the univer­sity’s mo­tion.

“Sim­i­larly, there is no ev­i­dence of any be­hav­ior that en­dan­gered stu­dents, vi­o­lated pa­tient ex­am­i­na­tion and pa­tient care poli­cies, or that did not com­port with the Cen­ter’s stan­dards of care.” —Le­high Univer­sity email to stu­dents and staff

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Le­high Univer­sity said an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion found no ev­i­dence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, im­proper con­tact or pol­icy vi­o­la­tions by a doc­tor who was ac­cused in a law­suit by a for­mer med­i­cal as­sis­tant who al­leged she was fired for com­plain­ing.

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