Did you know that under Georgia law, the Georgia Composite Medical Board is permitted to discipline doctors in a private manner so that the public is never made aware of their inappropriate and possibly even illegal behavior? That means if a doctor engages in behavior that is considered to be sexual harassment, they may only receive a slap on the wrist and can continue practicing. Although it sounds disturbing, a recent case that has surfaced highlights that this does in fact happen, and many individuals have been victimized as a result of this broken system.
My AJC covered the story involving Paul Harnetty and the details are rather appalling. Harnetty, who is a former obstetrician, was convicted on January 26, 2017, for sexually assaulting two Wyoming patients. Sadly, he was engaging in inappropriate long before these allegations were brought to light, yet no form of discipline was ever administered. When Harnetty first began practicing in Georgia, the board was made aware of some incidents reported by fellow nurses involving the doctor. Apparently, they witnessed Harnetty “routinely insert his finger into the anuses of pregnant women while they were delivering babies.” More than a dozen nurses reported that they had seen the same thing, although it wasn’t part of the usual process they had seen before.
The nurses also reported that he would mark an attractive patient’s chart with a smiley face and made every attempt to be sure he was “in line to deliver their baby.”
Eventually, a complaint was filed when the nurses witnessed this disturbing act and even told a board investigator about Harnetty’s sexual harassment, inappropriate comments, and touching. Shortly after that, he gave up his privileges to practice at Houston Medical Center in GA, although there was no clear reason why he left because the hospital keeps that information confidential. He continued to see pregnant patients although he wasn’t able to deliver their babies and eventually sought out a fresh start by applying for licenses in other states.
Although several complaints had been filed against the doctor in Georgia, Wyoming licensed Harnetty in 2012 and he began “practicing” yet again. Sexual assault allegations began to spark the interests of Casper police and they began looking into the complaints. At that time, the doctor was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse, and was placed on medical leave. He still continued to see patients and never informed them that he wouldn’t be able to deliver their babies. Sounds familiar.
As Harnetty’s developing case began to make the news, one woman felt a flush of relief as she was a patient and a victim of the former doctor, yet never came forward because she feared her words wouldn’t be taken seriously. She called Casper police and told them that when she was in her 20’s, the doctor had offered to perform a procedure on her free of charge on a Saturday morning. She was given medication prior to the procedure that made her woozy. She told AJC that “the doctor touched her inappropriately, used a massager on her and used his hands in an assault, while making vulgar comments.” After the procedure was over, he told her “remember, nobody needs to know about today.” And nobody did for a while until she heard that he was being investigated for similar allegations.
Eventually, in 2016, the doctor relinquished his license and in January 2017, he was arrested and charged with 12 counts of sexual assault and one drug count. But how did this doctor get away with the illegal behavior for so long? Perhaps the same question applies to Larry Nassar, the former Olympic gymnast doctor who was touching young girls inappropriately for years.
The issue lies within the laws that protect these doctors. Had Harnetty’s license been revoked after several complaints were filed in Georgia, he wouldn’t have been able to move into Wyoming where he continued to sexually assault and harass more women. Needless to say, it can take a great deal of time and patience to truly recognize someone for their inappropriate behavior which is why you must remain persistent and dedicated to the process.
If you are the victim of sexual harassment, don’t hesitate to come forward with your allegations. Although you may be worried that your voice won’t be heard, USAttorneys.com can connect you with some of the best Atlanta, GA sexual harassment lawyers who will be sure justice is served.