OHSU hires former Obama attorney general to investigate racism and sexual harassment

Oregon Health & Science University has hired Eric Holder, attorney general for President Barack Obama’s administration, to investigate complaints of gender and race discrimination and sexual harassment.

Announcing the decision internally, the chairman and chairman of the OHSU board of directors said the OHSU needs a respected investigator to help the administration achieve its goal of creating an anti-racist and inclusive culture free. harassment.

“We determined that the OHSU needed a nationally respected investigator with deep expertise in dealing with racial and gender issues in large, complex organizations,” wrote Dr. Danny Jacobs, chairman of OHSU, and Wayne Monfries, Chairman of its Board of Directors. “To this end, OHSU has engaged former United States Attorney General Eric Holder of Covington & Burling LLP to conduct a full and independent investigation into OHSU’s work environment for sexual harassment, discrimination, reprisals and racism.

Holder returned to work as a partner at Covington when he left the Obama administration in 2015. Covington, headquartered in Washington DC, has offices around the world, including in London, Brussels, Beijung, Johannesburg , Seoul and Dubai. In the United States, Holder has years of experience conducting workplace surveys. In 2016, AirBnB hired him to review its anti-discrimination policies after complaints of racism; the following year, he investigated complaints of sexual harassment against a manager by a former Uber employee; and in 2019, Starbucks hired him to deepen its policies on civil rights, diversity and inclusion. And in January, Seattle Children’s Hospital in Seattle announced that Holder would conduct an investigation into the practices of institutional racism, equity, inclusion and diversity.

The memo, which was also posted on the OHSU’s public website, says Holder will work with former federal prosecutor Nancy Kestenbaum, who has investigated reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination for other educational institutions. The two are also working together on the Seattle Children’s Hospital investigation.

Institutional racism will be one of the themes of Holder’s investigation at OHSU following accusations last September by black employees that the institution promotes racism. They claim that the administration has not taken substantial action in response to several noose incidents since 2016. No one has been fired for them, including an employee who posted a noose during a session. work last year. This month another incident arose with a racial slur that was found on a locker.

Black employees have repeatedly told the Lund Report that they are frustrated and angry and want change.

Dr Danny Jacobs responded with internal messages promising to foster a culture free from discrimination based on gender and race, as well as sexual abuse and harassment.

At least three women have sued OHSU for gender bias in recent years. Another former employee filed a sexual assault complaint against the institution last month. He accuses former anesthesiology resident Dr Jason Campbell, the doc for TikTok, of sending the victim harassing texts, social media messages and pornographic photographs. He says he also walked into her office at the Portland Veterans Hospital next to the OHSU and pushed her into an office with his erection. The lawsuit alleges that OHSU was complicit, ignoring complaints of sexual harassment against Campbell while fostering an environment that protected abuse and retaliated against victims. He said several faculty members, including Dr. Esther Choo, a professor in the emergency department and nationally recognized women’s rights advocate, were aware of the harassment but did not report it as required by the rules of the OHSU.

Michael Fuller, one of the victim’s attorneys in the case, said on Tuesday his firm was proud Holder is investigating the university. But on Wednesday, he released a statement with Kim Sordyl, the victim’s other lawyer, who said: “The OHSU faces responsibility and loses its accreditation due to its culture of perpetuating racial and gender discrimination. and misconduct. Hiring the incumbent does not amount to holding OHSU leaders accountable for the harm and suffering they have caused. We’ll make sure Holder gets the full scope of what happened under the failing leadership of the OHSU – no report will revise the story. We need accountability, not another boilerplate report that tells us what we all already know. “

The plaintiff’s lawyers also published a document listing Holder’s critical coverage for letting bankers off the hook when he was attorney general and for supporting Big Pharma, among others.

The victim in the trial also released a statement saying that Holder will likely exonerate the OHSU: “We need closure, not cover-ups. Holder will not hold accountable the powerful people behind the criminal culture, but we, the victims, will. “

The reaction from OHSU employees who responded by posting a post on the company’s internal website was mixed, with some welcoming the announcement and others presenting it in a negative light. Several people also raised the issue of mandatory reporting and asked why those who did not report the harassment still have their jobs.

“I want to echo the concerns of all the other people here who have raised the mandatory journalists and all those named in the lawsuit retaining their posts,” wrote one woman. “Until that changes, I don’t think any of us will feel safe. I have little to say about Eric Holder, except that I hope your choice to involve him doesn’t detract from it. Attention to the concerns that we have raised in these forums and the fact that they have not yet been addressed institutionally.

In its response to the complaint, OHSU denied any wrongdoing by its teachers or staff. He said he moved Campbell off the site, investigated the allegations, found them credible and was about to fire him when he resigned. He also said that Choo was under no obligation under Title IX to report the harassment because the victim was not working at OHSU at the time. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools.

Nonetheless, the allegations sparked an investigation by the Accreditation Council for Higher Medical Education, which approves medical intern, residency and scholarship programs. If he were to find an unprofessional environment that allowed harassment, he could put the OHSU on probation and withdraw his accreditation.

In response to the complaint, Jacobs promised a full review. Tuesday’s internal post said the investigation will aim to identify gaps and make recommendations.

“Based on the findings of the survey, the OHSU will assess potential policy changes, accountability, other best practices and targeted investments to ensure that every OHSU member feels safe, respected and valued on his workplace, ”the message read.

The public memo says the board’s human resources committee – headed by Ruth Beyer, vice-chair of the board, and including Monfries and Chad Paulson, the board’s director – will work with Holder to establish the scope of the investigation and a timeline .

“Please expect to know more about the next steps that will be taken over the next week,” the note said.

The university’s public relations department did not immediately respond to a request about the cost of the investigation.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.

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