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Mayo Clinic saw increase in victims reporting sexual harassment when #MeToo started

From September 2017-September 2019, 153 sexual harassment allegations were filed, and 88 were substantiated.

The Mayo Clinic saw an increase in staff who reported sexual harassment in the months following the start of the #MeToo movement in late 2017. But by early 2018, the volume of reports had gone down, mirroring a nationwide trend.

Mayo Clinic, which employs more than 65,000 people (including more than 4,000 physicians and scientists) across the country, reviewed all sexual harassment complaints and investigations from September 2017-September 2019.

The Rochester-based company recently published a study and article on the investigations in its peer-review journal. Sharing this data is among the ways Mayo is working at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. 

"Our novel approach includes being transparent about results as we work toward elimination of sexual harassment at Mayo Clinic. Until we eliminate every case of harassment, we cannot be complacent ― period," Cathy Fraser, Mayo's chief human resources officer and study co-author, said in a news release

During the study's two-year period, 153 sexual harassment allegations were filed with the company ― 88 of the allegations were substantiated. 

"We found that the overwhelming number of the accused were male, and nearly half were at the same organizational levels as the victims," Dr. Charanjit Rihal, the study's first author, said in a statement. "Though more time-trend data is needed, this is consistent with other studies in that the predominant victims are women and the predominant accused are men."

Of the 88 claims where someone was found to have engaged in conduct that violated Mayo's policies:

  • 59 cases involved staff who were not physicians or scientists
  • 22 cases involved physicians or scientists
  • 7 cases involved patients, visitors, contractors or vendors

The majority (71 cases or 80.7%) of the 88 substantiated reports involved inappropriate comments and/or unwelcome sexual advances. Meanwhile, 22 or 25% of substantiated reports involved unwanted touch or physical contact and 16 or 18.2% were described as electronic harassment, like via email or text messages.

"Mayo Clinic has developed a rigorous approach to effectively and consistently address all allegations of harassment," said Dr. Rihal. "As did many other institutions, Mayo Clinic experienced an increase in sexual harassment allegations in late 2017 and early 2018, and the article reviews how these complaints were handled and whether the process aligned with institutional policies."

After substantiating the complaints, the action Mayo took varied depending on the "nature and severity of the misconduct," the release said. Of the 88 cases:

  • 31 people, including nine physicians or scientists, received formal coaching
  • 22 people, including three physicians or scientists, received written warnings that ranged from a first warning to a final warning
  • 35 people, including 10 physicians or scientists, were terminated from employment or resigned before they were terminated

In 2017, just before the #MeToo movement spread across the country in October of that year, the Mayo Clinic updated its harassment policies to define all types of harassment and detail how complaints would be investigated and addressed, the release said. Before then, Mayo didn't track sexual harassment separately from other types of harassment.

Mayo says since early 2018, the number of sexual harassment reports within the company has declined. The reasons for this can be complex, Mayo said, but attributed the decline, at least in part, to the company's training ― in 2019, 95% of Mayo's staff had completed active bystander training so they would know how to support a colleague if they witnessed bullying, harassment or sexual harassment. 

"Clinical care, scientific research and health care education requires highly functional teams," Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., Mayo Clinic's president and CEO, said in a statement. "When harassment occurs, victims experience serious and potentially lasting damage, team dynamics break down, and patient care may be affected.

"Clear policies and processes must be in place for addressing harassment of all kinds, but they're only effective if the organization's leaders are committed, set zero-tolerance expectations and follow through," Farrugia added. "As a global leader in health care, we are completely committed to this."

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Trends nationwide mirror what Mayo Clinic experienced with the number of sexual harassment complaints in the workplace increasing after October 2017, coinciding with the #MeToo movement.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in October 2018 attributed an increase in sexual harassment complaints filed with the agency in the year prior ― the first increase in nearly a decade ― to the #MeToo movement, Reuters reported

The EEOC saw a 50% increase in lawsuits challenging sexual harassment and a 12% increase in charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment between 2017 and 2018, a news release said. And in 2019, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed with EEOC went down 1.2% compared to the year prior, but were still higher than 2017 levels, EEOC data show.

Mayo Clinic's full report on its sexual harassment study is available here

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