Time's Up Founder Choo Accused in Harassment Mishandling

Marcia Frellick

March 01, 2021

Updated March 2, 2021 // Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include further information on Campbell's current employment and from one of the plaintiff's attorneys.

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 and assault 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 and assaulted 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. Campbell now lives in Florida and has been put on leave from his job at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Ken Garcia, a university spokesperson told Medscape Medical News Tuesday.

The university released a statement: "The University of Florida and UF College of Medicine in Gainesville recently learned of a new hire who is the subject of allegations of misconduct from a previous institution. The employee was immediately placed on administrative leave pending investigation."

The university did not answer Medscape's questions about when Campbell was hired at the teaching hospital, but the Oregonian reported on Monday that "the hospital hired Campbell to continue his anesthesia residency after he quietly left Portland and OHSU, apparently under a confidential agreement."

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.

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, 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"

https://twitter.com/TheBlondeRN/status/1366552554973384704

  

Choo did not respond to Medscape's request for comment.

Michael Fuller, attorney for one of the accusers, told Medscape Medical News that one of the goals of the lawsuit is intended to force change at OHSU: "Right now, they have a policy where a male doctor can be repeatedly accused and even found to be in violation of the university's harassment policies and those same policies don't require anyone within the university to report the information to the health authorities, to the patients, to future employers."

He said the $45 million figure is the most a jury could allow in punitive damages and "that would go to taxpayers and to a crime victims compensation fund. We're seeking a separate amount of $4.5 million for the plaintiffs and that’s just for compensation."

As for Choo, he said, "It was especially hurtful that she chose to do nothing when she was one of the first people our client confided in."

OHSU spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley shared the university's statement on the lawsuit with Medcape Medical News: "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

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