|Subject: UofT Campus --- Sex Assault Lawsuit
|U of T student files $3M sex assault suit
Alleges she was sexually abused by medical researcher
University Health Network officials among 22 defendants
A University of Toronto doctoral student who says she was sexually assaulted by her academic adviser has filed a sweeping $3 million lawsuit against 22 leading members of the city´s academic and medical communities.
Gwen Schwartz, a 36-year-old Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and a medical researcher at the University Health Network, is suing her former professor, Dr. Michael Fehlings, along with university and hospital officials she claims did nothing to address her complaints of ongoing sexual harassment and abuse.
The allegations, contained in an 85-page statement of claim, have not been proved in court.
Defendants named in the suit include health network president Tom Closson, Emma Pavlov, the hospitals´ vice-president of human resources, the governing council of the University of Toronto and UofT dean of medicine Dr. David Naylor.
Schwartz´ statement of claim alleges Fehlings engaged in "abuse of power, assault, battery" and that he neglected his professional duties "in favour of his own sexual gratification."
The statement claims UHN and the U of T are "vicariously liable" for the actions of their officials who, Schwartz claims in her statement, committed "abuse of power, abuse of process" and "deceit."
Fehlings did not return requests for an interview yesterday. His lawyer, Jonathan Lisus, said Fehlings had been served with the statement of claim and that Schwartz´ allegations will be "resolutely defended."
"Dr. Fehlings and Ms. Schwartz had a consensual affair while she was a graduate student in his lab," Lisus said. "He acknowledges that this affair, although consensual, was contrary to university policy and he has been sanctioned for it. However, her allegations of assault and harassment are false."
Closson, chief executive officer of UHN, which includes Princess Margaret, Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals, did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday.
Pavlov said she had not yet received a copy of the suit, adding, "This is a legal matter so I really can´t comment."
After requesting comment from UHN yesterday, the Toronto Star received a letter from a law firm stating that UHN had not been served with the suit and therefore could not comment.
In an August Star story about Schwartz´ sexual harassment complaint, Closson said that UHN took her complaint seriously and determined that "sexual harassment did occur."
Closson said at the time that UHN´s investigation into Schwartz´ case resulted in a signed confidential agreement between her, Fehlings, UHN and UofT.
That agreement would have paid Schwartz $200,500 to cover her legal fees, reimburse her for travel expenses and pay damages of $68,000.
But Schwartz says in her statement of claim that she signed the deal "under duress" and that it was submitted without her permission. She says she has never accepted any of the money offered as part of the agreement and considers it void.
Regarding her allegations against the UofT, Schwartz´ statement claims the university "fostered and condoned the development of a toxic academic environment hostile to (her)," including "intentional infliction of mental anguish."
Naylor, whom Schwartz claims acted "in a manner so as to enable sexual harassment," did not respond to an interview request yesterday.
Jessica Whiteside, a UofT spokesperson, said university officials were not aware yesterday of the suit.
Schwartz told the Star the lawsuit is the culmination of a four-year battle with university and hospital officials.
"I´m so relieved to have it brought before a forum where it can really be addressed and where experts can argue for me," she said. "Before that, they weren´t listening to me. I was nothing more than a pesky little fly they kept swatting away.... These institutions feel they are above the law."
Schwartz has published articles on her research in academic journals and received the Outstanding Achievement Award of Women in Neurotrauma Research in 2001.
In her statement of claim, Schwartz alleges her professor-student relationship with Fehlings "changed dramatically" in December 2000.
That´s when, she claims, the neurosurgeon "began an amorous pursuit" that progressed into "sexual advances," "sexually explicit" telephone messages and uninvited visits to her apartment in which he "forced her to engage in sexual relations without her consent," says the statement of claim.
"The frequent, non-consensual sexual relations often involved humiliating and degrading acts," says the statement.
And it states that Fehlings "made clear by his conduct toward (Schwartz) that if she ever disclosed their relationship, her career would be ruined."
The statement also alleges Fehlings "had been threatening for over two years to terminate her research projects if she failed to comply with his sexual demands."
In March 2003, Schwartz filed a formal complaint against Fehlings with Pavlov, UHN´s vice-president of human resources.
"Despite the obvious power imbalance, the defendant Pavlov´s response was that the relationship was consensual," says the statement of claim. "She remarked to (Schwartz): `You´re not 15 years old and these things happen.´"
After Schwartz filed the formal complaint, Fehlings "confiscated" her academic research and reassigned her work in spinal cord research to other staff, and "suspended her access to electronic administrative files" and voicemail, says the statement of claim.
While the hospital did assign an investigator to look into Schwartz´ allegations, the investigation was never completed.
Through his lawyer, Fehlings denied that claim. "Her allegations that Dr. Fehlings appropriated her intellectual property are false," said Lisus.
In the fall of 2003, the UofT terminated Schwartz´ active student status without her knowledge, causing her to lose health benefits and student loans, says the statement. University officials have since acknowledged Schwartz´ student status was removed in error and that she remains a student in good standing.
In addition to the lawsuit, Schwartz has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. She has also filed a complaint against Fehlings with the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons