Pennsylvania Jury Awards Surgeon $15M In Sex Bias Suit

In December 2023, a Philadelphia jury awarded $15 million to a surgeon who argued that Thomas Jefferson University Hospital engaged in illegal discrimination during an investigation of sexual assault allegations.

Attorney addressing jury

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.


Published on January 26, 2024

Attorney addressing jury

The Facts of the Case

The case is based on an investigation into a sexual assault complaint raised by the plaintiff, Dr. John Abraham. In 2018, Dr. Abraham hosted a party at his house. During the party, Abraham alleged, a female medical resident acted in an inappropriate, sexually aggressive way, getting the plaintiff so drunk he couldn’t meaningfully consent to sex and then continuing to make advances despite his attempts to resist.

When Dr. Abraham filed a report with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, he discovered that the resident had also filed a complaint. The ensuing investigation focused on Dr. Abraham’s behavior. It also demonstrated leniency to the medical resident’s behavior.

In the complaint and at trial, Dr. Abraham and his counsel argued that the hospital’s handling of the case led to Dr. Abraham being portrayed as a “rapist” despite his attempts to resist the resident’s advances that night, while comparatively little attention was paid to the resident’s behavior. As a result, they argued, Dr. Abraham lost his contract with Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, where he had practiced medicine prior to the incident.

Dr. Abraham brought the recent case in response to the hospital’s handling of the investigation. Attorneys Andrew Marth and Lane R. Jubb Jr. of the Beasley Firm, Stuart Bernstein of Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, and Lance Rogers of Rogers Counsel represented the plaintiff during the proceedings.

The case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson presided.

The Jury’s Verdict

At trial, the plaintiff and his attorneys argued that Thomas Jefferson University Hospital was liable under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments for its allegedly biased handling of the case involving Dr. Abraham.

The jury’s verdict, following a four-day civil trial, indicated that jurors agreed. They found that the hospital’s leadership violated Abraham’s civil rights under Title IX when it discriminated against him on the basis of his sex. Based on evidence presented at trial, the jury determined that the hospital subjected Dr. Abraham to unequal treatment during the investigation.

In his original complaint, Dr. Abraham sought $5 million in compensatory damages. After the trial, the jury returned an award three times that amount. The jury’s verdict included $11 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages for “outrageous conduct” that caused both damage to the doctor’s reputation and emotional distress.

The award may be the largest ever received by a male plaintiff in the history of Title IX cases, says attorney Lane R. Jubb Jr., who represented the plaintiff.

The hospital has expressed its disappointment in the verdict and is considering options to appeal, according to a spokesperson. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is represented by William A. Harvey, Lisa A. Lori, and Stephanie D. Wolbransky of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP.

Takeaways for Attorneys

For the plaintiff’s legal team, the case hinged on whether the jury believed Dr. Abraham’s account of the 2018 party - that he had asked the resident to stop making sexual advances, thus withdrawing his consent to any sexual contact that occurred after.

The jury, which consisted of five women and three men, did appear to take Dr. Abraham’s side seriously. They also weighed the behavior of the hospital following the 2018 party, as well as what Dr. Abraham lost in income, potential earnings, and reputation.

After the case concluded, one juror told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he found in the doctor’s favor mostly because the hospital had so readily dismissed Dr. Abraham’s input in the investigation following the party. The juror also raised the concern that the hospital’s attorneys hadn’t explained what steps the hospital would take to improve its Title IX processes.

Because sexual assault claims are based on behavior that is legal with consent but illegal without, many often come down to what each party claims and how credible each party appears. Title IX cases, however, add another dimension: Whether an entity tasked with treating the parties in the claim fairly fulfills this obligation or discriminates against a party on the basis of sex.

Here, focusing on Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s behavior after the fact, in addition to the content of Dr. Abraham’s claims, helped the jury see that they didn’t have to resolve the underlying sexual assault claim to know that the hospital had failed to treat both parties with equal respect and seriousness under the law.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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