The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case brought against a private hospital by a female participant in the hospital’s medical residency program that may have important implications for residency programs. The plaintiff alleged that the hospital was liable under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 for creating a hostile work environment, retaliation, and quid pro quo harassment, along with several state-law claims. The plaintiff claimed that the director of her radiology residency program sexually harassed her over the course of several months. After she complained about the director’s behavior, she was dismissed from the residency program.
Title IX provides that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” (20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)). The main issue in the case was whether a residency program of a private hospital was considered an “education program or activity” under Title IX.
The court held that the residency program would be considered an “education program or activity” if it had features that indicated that the program’s mission is at least partially educational. The factors the court looked at to determine whether Mercy’s residency program was covered under Title IX were: (1) whether the program was incrementally structured through a particular course of study or training; (2) whether the program allowed participants to earn a degree or diploma, qualify for a certification or certification examination, or pursue a specific occupation beyond on-the-job training; (3) whether the program provided instructors, examinations, an evaluation process or accepted tuition; and (4) whether the entities that offered, accredited or regulated the program held the program out as educational.
The court determined that Mercy’s radiology residency program was educational in nature. It is a multiyear program of study and training which requires students to learn and train under faculty and physicians, attend lectures, make case presentations under supervision, participate in classes on a local college’s campus, and sit for annual exams. Upon completion of the radiology program, students are eligible to take the board certification exam. The program also holds itself out to be educational in nature, and the program’s accrediting agency refers to its programs as educational experiences. In addition, the residency program is affiliated with a nearby university program also covered by Title IX. Therefore, because the program qualified as an “education program or activity”, the plaintiff was allowed to assert her Title IX claims against the hospital.
While the court held that Mercy’s radiology residency program is educational, it does not necessarily mean that its residents are students. The plaintiff in this case was considered to be an employee. Normally, employees must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit against their employer for sex discrimination or retaliation, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This requires the employee to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar local agency before filing a lawsuit. However, this is not required under Title IX. The court held that, since the hospital’s residency program was covered under Title IX, the plaintiff could file a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination and retaliation under Title IX without complying with Title VII’s administrative exhaustion requirement.
Case information: Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, No. 16-1247, 2017 WL 894455 (3d Cir. Mar. 7, 2017).
Cameron H. Carstens, Esq.