Esther Choo, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), is one of several leaders at the university accused in a federal lawsuit of being complicit in mishandling sexual harassment allegations made against an OHSU resident physician.
For Choo, who is a founding member of Time’s Up Healthcare, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to eradicating sexual harassment and gender discrimination in healthcare arenas, the allegations are particularly problematic and have led to widespread frustration on social media.
The $45 million lawsuit, filed late Friday, alleges that OHSU physician Jason Campbell, MD, known as the “Tik Tok Doc” for dancing in his scrubs on social media, sexually harassed a coworker, who is not named in the suit, at Portland’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he occasionally worked as an anesthesia resident.
According to the lawsuit, Campbell’s harassment of the female social worker last year included unwanted touching and sending pornographic text messages and videos. The documents allege that incidents began in January 2020 when he was a resident and employee of OHSU. According to the lawsuit, Campbell currently lives in Florida.
According to the court documents, examples of the harassment include that on January 24, 2020, Campbell sent the woman a picture of his erection. That same day, Campbell sent her a video message on Instagram that said, “You look tasty.” On January 28, 2020, Campbell sent the plaintiff a text that said in part “I’m fit, you’re fit, there’s the orgasm.”
Then on March 12, the suit alleges, Campbell went into the woman’s office area, crept up behind her and forcibly pressed against her so she could feel his erection.
“Plaintiff was terrified and yelled at Dr. Campbell to leave,” the suit says. “Plaintiff followed up with a written message, ‘Don’t EVER surprise me by getting in my physical space.’ “
The lawsuit contends the woman complained to OHSU about the alleged conduct. An investigation by OHSU, which is reported by Oregon Live to have concluded in August, found Campbell, who was at the time a second-year resident, violated harassment policy and leaders recommended “appropriate” discipline.
However, the plaintiff said she shared details of her allegations with at least 13 OHSU employees, including Choo, in the spring, the suit says.
The suit claims OHSU medical personnel didn’t formally report her harassment complaints. It seeks $45 million in damages against Campbell and OHSU.
According to the lawsuit, on March 31, 2020, the plaintiff wrote to Choo outlining the alleged sexual harassment and assault of herself and another employee. The affidavit says that Choo responded via text, “Ugh, I’m giving him feedback.”
OHSU’s report, the lawsuit says, describes Choo offering to “sit down” and discuss the matter with Campbell or his program director when she received text messages from the plaintiff about the allegations against Campbell, according to OHSU’s report.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff told Choo, “in writing along with screenshot evidence, that Dr. Campbell had also sexually harassed and sexually assaulted an OHSU employee, but that the victim feared reporting it. On April 10, 2020, Dr. Choo messaged plaintiff, ‘It’s never worth it. Never.’ Her text was in regards to reporting sexual harassment. Plaintiff then gave Dr. Choo screenshot evidence that an OHSU Assistant Professor had received two reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Campbell. Dr. Choo responded, ‘OMG How should we handle.’ “
Choo is a mandatory reporter of sexual harassment accusations. Title IX policy requires a prompt report.
On June 5, 2020, the suit says, Choo posed for a photo with Campbell for Twitter. On June 12, 2020, Campbell challenged Choo to help him get over 50,000 views on one of his videos. Then on October 1, 2020, Choo tagged Campbell in a Twitter fundraiser, tagging him along with a few others as “Oregon friends with big followings and hearts.”
Other examples of Choo’s interaction with the plaintiff and Campbell are indexed in the lawsuit.
Choo is widely known as an expert on sexual harassment and gender equity in the medical workplace.
She is a national speaker on the subject and has more than 185,000 Twitter followers. There has been an outcry on both Reddit and Twitter with people complaining that Choo was complicit.
For example, Ashley Bartholomew, BSN, RN (@TheBlondeRN) tweeted: “As a survivor I have a general distrust. Yet I realize now I had hope in leaders, specifically women leaders who are physicians, to do the right thing when sexual assault and harassment is reported. Yet that didn’t happen so who’s there to trust? Who has integrity? #ChooKnew“
As a survivor I have a general distrust. Yet I realize now I had hope in leaders, specifically women leaders who are physicians, to do the right thing when sexual assault and harassment is reported.
Yet that didn’t happen so who’s there to trust? Who has integrity? #ChooKnew
— Ashley Bartholomew, BSN, RN (@TheBlondeRN) March 2, 2021
Medscape reached out to Choo on Monday for comment but she had not responded by publication time.
OHSU spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley told Medscape Medical News that, “Jason Campbell, MD, is no longer employed by OHSU” and shared the university’s statement on the lawsuit: “OHSU does not condone behavior as described in the lawsuit. We are continuously working to evolve our culture, policies, and practices to provide an environment where all learners, employees, patients, and visitors feel safe and welcome. While we cannot comment at this time on the specifics of this pending litigation, we take our role seriously in being part of the change that needs to happen across our country to end discrimination and power dynamics that allow for harassment. We remain committed to these ideals and will continue to prioritize them as a public leader in health care, education, and research.”
Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick