John Peters was a 44-year-old cardiologist on the staff of a teaching hospital in a large city in the southeastern United States. Happily married with two teenage children, he had served with distinction for many years at this same hospital, and in fact served his residency there after graduating from Columbia University’s medical school.
Alana Anderson was an attractive African-American registered nurse on the staff at the same hospital with Peters. Unmarried and without children, she lived in a hospital-owned apartment on the hospital grounds and diligently devoted almost all of her time to her work at the hospital or to taking additional coursework to further improve her already excellent nursing skills.
The hospital’s chief administrator, Gary Chapman, took enormous pride in what he called the extraordinary professionalism of doctors, nurses, and other staff members at his hospital. Although he took a number of rudimentary steps to guard against blatant violations of equal employment opportunity laws, he believed that most of the professionals on his staff were so highly trained and committed to the highest professional standards that “they would always do the right thing” as he put it.
Chapman was therefore upset to receive a phone call from Peters, informing him that Anderson had (in Peters’ eyes) “developed an unwholesome personal attraction” to him and was bombarding the doctor with Valentine’s Day cards, affectionate personal notes, and phone calls – often to the doctor’s home. Concerned about hospital decorum and the possibility that Peters was being sexually harassed, Chapman met privately with Anderson, explained that Peters was very uncomfortable with the personal attention she was showing to him, and asked that she please not continue to exhibit her show of affection for the doctor.
Chapman assumed that the matter was over. Several weeks later, when Anderson resigned her position at the hospital, Chapman didn’t think much of it. He was therefore shocked and dismayed to receive a registered letter from a local attorney, informing him that both the hospital and Peters and Chapman personally were being sued by Anderson for racial discrimination. Her claim was that Chapman, in their private meeting, had told her, “We don’t think it’s right for people of different races to pursue each other romantically at this hospital.” According to the lawyer, his preliminary research had uncovered several other alleged incidents at the hospital that apparently supported the idea that racial discrimination at the hospital was widespread.
1. What do you think of the way Chapman handled the accusations from Peters and his conversation with Anderson? How would you have handled them?
2. Do you think Peters had the basis for a sexual harassment claim against Anderson? Why or why not?
3. What would you do now if you were Chapman to avoid further incidents of this type?