A federal jury has awarded a former associate professor $15 million after finding him the victim of a gender-biased investigation by his former university.
John Abraham, a former Rothman Orthopedic Institute surgeon and former associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said that a second-year resident got him too drunk to consent and forced herself on him during a pool party at his home in 2018. While he says his claim was ignored, her claim that he sexually assaulted her resulted in a Title IX investigation against him, leading to his resignation, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week.
Abraham said he reported the incident to several TJU officials, who had a duty to report sexual misconduct under the anti-sex discrimination statute Title IX. None of them reported his allegations, he claimed.
The resident, Jessica Phillips, claimed she woke up in Abraham’s bed the morning after the party and was naked, disoriented, and covered in bruises. She filed a criminal complaint against Abraham the month after the party, but Montgomery County prosecutors closed the investigation without charging Abraham four months later.
TJU investigated Phillips’ claims, and Abraham testified at a federal civil trial that TJU officials ignored his side of the story. He also testified that the hospital threatened to report him to a national database that tracks doctor misconduct unless he took a leave of absence. Abraham testified that being reported to that database would mean the end of his career.
“I had no choice. There was no option,” Abraham said at trial, according to the Inquirer.
TJU closed its investigation into Abraham after he agreed to resign from his faculty position and abandon his clinical privileges at the school’s hospitals.
About a year after Phillips reported the incident, Abraham sued her for defamation and libel. She countersued for assault and battery, but the case was settled without either side receiving monetary damages. Phillips is now an orthopedic surgeon on the West Coast.
The school’s Title IX report detailed interviews with 41 witnesses and included Phillips’ claims about assault. It says the school tried to interview Abraham about the incident but he declined because of the open criminal investigation at the time. Abraham’s attorneys said at trial that their client tried to delay the final report for just “two or three more weeks” to let the criminal investigation conclude, but the school ignored his plea.
While the report didn’t make a finding, the school’s then-Title IX coordinator Zoe Gingold told Abraham that she believed a “no-charge decision is not possible in this case” and that a hearing would be held. Before that could happen, Abraham resigned.
Andrew Marth, one of Abraham’s attorneys, pointed to details in the report that should have been considered sexual misconduct by Phillips, including a male Jefferson nurse who said Phillips sat next to him while he was playing piano and “nibbled” on his ear and “started rubbing me a little bit,” which made him “a little uncomfortable.”
Gingold testified that Phillips’ other behavior at the party didn’t compare to her allegations against Abraham, but she also added that “She was a student. He was a teacher. He was in a powerful hierarchy position to her,” according to the Inquirer.
Abraham sued TJU as well, arguing that the school’s actions have destroyed his career and harmed his ability to make money. Abraham was earning about $2 million in income a year and was a partner and shareholder at the Rothman Orthopedic Institute. The Institute conducted an investigation into Phillips’ claims in 2018 and, while it didn’t fire Abraham, it did restrict him from working in Jefferson hospitals and interacting with Jefferson residents. He was fired last year for allegedly failing to bring in the $1.3 million in annual revenue that partners are required. Abraham has also brought legal action against Rothman.
“His career is in tatters. His practice, dismantled,” another one of Abraham’s attorneys, Lane Jubb Jr., said at trial.
Abraham now reportedly lives in a one-bedroom apartment near a train station.
The jury decided to award Abraham $15 million, arguing that TJU treated him unequally because he is a man, the Inquirer reported.