Wednesday, April 17, 2024
HomeusExclusive: 300 patients sue Columbia University over doctor's sexual abuse

Exclusive: 300 patients sue Columbia University over doctor’s sexual abuse

More than 300 women are suing Columbia University, accusing the institution of “enabling” the serial sex abuser Robert Hadden, who was a gynecologist in its affiliated hospital system.

Hadden was sentenced to 20 years in prison in July after being convicted of four counts of inducing four women to travel interstate to his medical offices so he could sexually abuse them.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who sentenced Hadden in federal court, said the case involved “outrageous, horrific, beyond extraordinary, depraved sexual abuse.” Judge Berman also pointed out that at least 245 of Hadden’s former patients have alleged he abused them.

The institutions where Hadden worked, including the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, have already agreed to pay more than $236 million to settle civil claims brought by more than 200 former patients.

Now attorney Anthony DiPietro has filed on behalf of another 301 former patients against the university and its affiliated hospital system, under the Adult Survivors Act. This law gives victims of sexual abuse a temporary window, which ends on November 23, in which New York’s usual statue of limitations for civil lawsuits is set aside.

The defendants “willingly enabled, aided, abetted, concealed and repeatedly covered up” Hadden’s abuse, DiPietro wrote in the complaint, which was filed in the New York Supreme Court on Tuesday and reviewed by Newsweek.

Asked for comment on the new lawsuit, a Columbia spokesperson told Newsweek on Wednesday that it is “profoundly sorry for the pain that Robert Hadden’s patients suffered and his exploitation of their trust.

“The prosecution of Hadden that led to his conviction of federal crimes showed how he purposely worked to evade our oversight and engineer situations to abuse his patients.”

Laurie Maldonado, an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia School of Social Work and a client of DiPietro, is also pursuing a separate civil claim alleging that the university enabled Hadden’s abuse.

Hadden groomed, assaulted and abused her at gynaecological appointments when she was his patient between 2003 and 2012, she told Newsweek.

This included prolonged, medically unnecessary and inappropriate breast and vaginal exams, she said.

On some occasions, a nurse in the room with Maldonado and Hadden “witnessed the verbal and physical exploitation, abuse and assaults firsthand” but “nothing was done to prevent or stop Hadden’s misconduct,” according to court documents reviewed by Newsweek.

Maldonado was 40 weeks pregnant and close to labor when she went to Hadden’s office for what was supposed to be a routine prenatal exam in October 2011. Hadden took her behind a curtain, out of her then-husband’s view, and digitally penetrated her—an assault that included “an overt act of sadism,” the documents said.

“My husband heard me scream,” Maldonado said. “He asked me, do you feel violated? And I said yes.”

Maldonado delivered her son less than 48 hours later. Hadden’s assault, she said, was worse than natural childbirth.

“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t walk, I was in so much pain,” she said. “And my husband just took me out of the room. I think at that moment, we just said, the baby’s coming and we have to focus on the baby. So that’s what we did.”

Maldonado returned for an appointment with Hadden six months after giving birth and was informed that he had taken leave. She was not told that Hadden had been arrested in June 2012 after a patient reported that he had touched her sexually during an exam.

She was on the subway in 2013 when she found out, after spotting the “GYNO IS SICKO” headline in a copy of the New York Daily News that another passenger was reading.

Hadden was indicted in 2014 after other women came forward with allegations. The charges included five counts of a criminal sexual act, two counts of forcible touching and two counts of sexual abuse.

But a deal with the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 2016 allowed Hadden to plead guilty to a single felony count of criminal sexual act in the third degree and a misdemeanor count of forcible touching. He was required to give up his medical license, but avoided prison.

Last month a joint investigation by ProPublica and New York magazine alleged that Columbia had failed to act on years of evidence Hadden was sexually assaulting patients.

Columbia allowed Hadden to practice for five weeks after he was reported to police by a patient, the report said. At least eight other women Hadden saw during those five weeks allege that he assaulted them, according to the article’s authors Bianca Fortis and Laura Beil.

The university “failed to hand over evidence in its possession despite subpoenas that compelled it to do so,” wrote Fortis and Beil, and did not inform the district attorney’s office when more patients came forward with allegations.

In addition, the university reportedly waited months to tell Hadden’s patients that he was no longer working and eventually sent “Dear Patient” letters that omitted the reason why.

Maldonado told Newsweek that she had never received a letter.

The Columbia spokesperson told Newsweek on Wednesday: “We also deeply regret, based on what we know today, that Hadden saw patients for several weeks following his voided arrest in 2012. Columbia then banned Hadden from his medical practice, and he has not worked as a doctor for 11 years.”

The spokesperson added that CUIMC’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology “has revised existing policies, adopted new ones, and expanded resources to earn and maintain patients’ trust. The Department’s overriding commitment to patient safety is expressed through continuous evaluation and improvement of practices and services to create an environment where patients not only are safe—but feel safe.”

But DiPietro has written in the new complaint that Columbia knew as early as 1994 that Hadden was abusing patients.

“Instead of taking action … what [the defendants] did instead was to conspire with [Hadden], conceal his crimes from the authorities, and gas-light their patients, while enabling and aiding [Hadden] in becoming the most prolific serial sexual predator in New York State history,” he wrote.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include doctors, lawyers, professors and nurses, DiPietro told Newsweek.

DiPietro represented 147 patients who reached an agreement with Columbia for $165 million in October 2022. A settlement in the new lawsuit could amount to more than $1 billion, he said.

“The only thing Columbia cares about is their money and, to maybe a lesser extent, their reputation,” he said. “And if that’s the case, fine. I want to hit them as hard as I can, as many times as possible. So, after this is done, they remember our clients, they remember me and they don’t let this happen to anyone else in the future.”

In the complaint, DiPietro noted that more than $2 billion has been paid to victims and survivors of doctor-patient sexual abuse in the U.S.

“Most of those other places have had the decency to acknowledge where they’ve fallen short, have notified the patients who were impacted, and have apologized to patients,” he wrote.

He added that Columbia and the defendants “stand alone in refusing to admit to their complicity, conspiracy, concealment, and cover-up of [Hadden’s] long history of the sexual exploitation and abuse that was happening right in front of them.”

DiPietro has also filed a petition in the New York State Supreme Court seeking an order that will require the New York State Department of Health and Columbia to notify all of Hadden’s patients about their exposure to a sexual predator.

“Columbia has never done it,” he said. “We’ve been pushing them to do it.”

A week after the ProPublica and New York investigation was published, Minouche Shafik, Columbia University’s president, and Katrina Armstrong, the CEO of CUIMC, released a statement saying that Columbia “continues to grapple with the magnitude of harm done” by Hadden.

“We are heartbroken for those who have suffered and continue to suffer from these terrible actions. Hadden will spend the rest of his life in prison thanks to these courageous women,” the statement said.

“We commend them for coming forward. We offer our deepest apologies to all his victims and their loved ones.”

Shafik and Armstrong said the university has continued to “enhance the policies and processes in place to afford our patients a safe environment of care, and we remain committed to strengthening the safeguards that are essential for earning patient trust.”

Maldonado said these words amounted to “a slap in the face,” adding: “That’s not an apology.”

Other survivors have also condemned Columbia’s statement.

“There is no ownership of the university’s past—and ongoing— failures,” said a statement from Evelyn Yang and Marissa Hoechstetter.

“Instead, it comes from a place of self-preservation, a continuation of Columbia’s 35-year refusal to acknowledge that they enabled and protected Hadden’s abuse. Columbia failed to protect patients and get rid of this known sexual predator.”

Maldonado said she and other survivors were calling for an external review.

“We want accountability from Columbia,” she said. “I was frozen in the room with Hadden, and I didn’t report then. But I’m here now. I’m not afraid and I’m going to use my voice to make change.”

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