The woman who won $2.5 million in a landmark civil lawsuit after testifying that she had been sexually harassed by a male boss at a nursing home wonders why the man still holds a nursing license.
However, state officials and the man's lawyer say the Division of Professional Licensing investigated the matter and closed its case without taking action against him.
A jury in U.S. District Court awarded Maria G. Parker the largest financial settlement in Utah history in December 2002 after a six-day trial. She had sued the nursing home and its management companies, but did not name the man in the lawsuit.
Her attorney, April Hollingsworth, said Parker could not sue the man in federal court because the law under which that suit was filed doesn't allow individuals to be named.
Parker said she was sexually assaulted by her boss on July 12, 1999, but did not file a report with the Salt Lake Police Department until Aug. 10, 1999, according to state court documents.
The man was charged with first-degree felony forcible sodomy and two counts of class A misdemeanor lewdness in 3rd District Court, according to state court records. As part of a plea bargain, he entered a plea in abeyance to the lewdness charges, which meant that after a period of time the charges could be dismissed if he met certain court-ordered conditions.
Hollingsworth questions why the man still is permitted by the Division of Professional Licensing to hold a nursing license, especially since trial testimony in the civil suit brought forth four other women who testified that he had sexually abused them.
Hollingsworth filed a formal complaint with DOPL and an investigator, L.M. Hansen, responded with a letter stating that the division finished its investigation and "determined there is insufficient evidence of unlawful practice" and the case was closed.
Hollingsworth said she found this disturbing and wrote to Steve Davis, the division's chief investigator. "Having heard all the evidence against (the man), however, I was (and am) outraged that he is still a practicing nurse," she wrote in her letter.
She wrote that she had filed another complaint with DOPL, supplied the names and phone numbers of all the women who testified, and offered to provide any additional information.
The man did not want to be interviewed but did issue a statement through his attorney, Donald Dalton: "This matter was thoroughly investigated by DOPL. That fact must be well-known to Ms. Parker and her attorneys. This matter just ought to be dropped."
Scott Thompson, public information officer for the Department of Commerce, which is over DOPL, said the man's situation originally came to DOPL's attention in 1999. "That was about the time he got charged with forcible sodomy that got pleaded down to lewdness. Typically, we need to have a conviction and criminal proceeding to take action against a license," Thompson said.
"There wasn't anything in the statute at that time for a plea in abeyance sort of thing. It was really unclear. That has since been changed in 2001 so even a plea in abeyance can affect somebody's license," he said. "We have to go by what the statutes allowed us to do in 1999. If that provision had been there for a plea in abeyance, it's likely that some action would have been taken, but it wasn't."
As for the civil lawsuit in federal court, DOPL did hear about that also, Thompson said. "They determined there wasn't enough of a case in the civil action for us to pursue it. From our vantage point, since he wasn't named in the suit, even though he was involved, we didn't find enough evidence to pursue anything."
Thompson said the man currently holds a practical nurse license and that license is up for renewal in January 2004. It is not clear whether he was currently working as a nurse because DOPL does not track such data, Thompson said.
Hollingsworth terms DOPL's arguments "absurd."
She said her examination of the 1999 statutes shows that an individual could be sanctioned if there are physical or mental health problems that would impair the person's ability to practice safely, as well as sanctions for unprofessional conduct — including one that specifically refers to "sexually abusing or exploiting any person through conduct connected with the licensee's practice."
Hollingsworth doesn't represent the other women who testified at Parker's civil trial but is upset on their behalf since they testified under oath about sexual abuse and the jury in federal court believed them.
"I don't understand what is wrong (with DOPL)," Hollingsworth said. "Either they disregarded a jury verdict or they didn't care that a nurse is assaulting his subordinates."