At least four founding members of Time’s Up Healthcare resigned Thursday from the organization following a lawsuit that suggests two other founders did not respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment and assault in their separate jobs at Oregon Health and Science University.
Both Esther Choo and Laura Stadum are mentioned in a legal complaint filed in February in an Oregon federal court by an anonymous employee of the Veterans Affairs hospital, in which the employee alleges that a resident who is well-known on Twitter and TikTok harassed her, sending her “sexually-charged social media messages” and once pushed his erect penis against her body.
Neither Stadum, the Title IX coordinator at OHSU, or Choo, an emergency medicine physician and a professor at OHSU, is named as a defendant. Instead, the plaintiff alleges that Choo discouraged another person from reporting separate alleged harassment.
Time’s Up Healthcare founding members Monica McLemore, Arghavan Salles, Pringl Miller, and Angela Lawson tweeted Thursday and Friday about their resignations. According to McLemore, five others have also resigned, but have not announced it publicly.
“We feel like there’s a disconnect between our principles and our actions,” McLemore told STAT. “If we are really serious about workplace transformation, we have to model what that looks like.” Salles and Lawson were not immediately available to comment.
Time’s Up Healthcare is an offshoot of the Time’s Up charity, founded in the wake of reporting about a pattern of sexual harassment and assaults in the film industry. The larger charity now raises money to support victims of sexual harassment; the health care branch promotes “safe, fair, and dignified work for all in health care,” according to the organization’s Twitter account.
Those who resigned described frustration with the Time’s Up Healthcare organization’s extended public silence about the lawsuit. McLemore also said that the organization missed an opportunity to have a conversation about structural barriers to reporting harassment and assault.
“If you don’t say anything, […] you aren’t centering the survivor. For me, all that needed to be said was, ‘We stand with survivors,’” McLemore said.
“It was a very difficult decision,” said Miller, a general surgeon and palliative medicine specialist. The original foundation was something “that I very much needed,” she added. “A lot of us, I think, gravitated toward the organization for similar reasons.”
“Everybody has a line,” Miller told STAT.
Lawson, who is a clinical psychologist and fertility expert at Northwestern, has also publicly disagreed with the organization’s choice to stay silent for most of the week. “It only generates more distractions from her story,” she tweeted.
I resigned last night. pic.twitter.com/RuQa7fMML8
— Arghavan Salles, MD, PhD (@arghavan_salles) March 5, 2021
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff describes writing to Choo in March and April 2020 first about her own experience, then again to discuss another OHSU employee who was afraid to formally report harassment. According to the complaint, after the plaintiff shared that second story, Choo texted back: “It’s never worth it. Never.” The plaintiff also describes filing a complaint with Stadum later in April.
The president and CEO of the umbrella charity, Time’s Up, posted a short statement on Thursday offering support for the survivor who filed the complaint but declining to comment on the case. “It is not appropriate for Dr. Choo or TIME’S UP to comment further on matters in litigation,” the statement says. OSHU also issued a statement on Tuesday about the lawsuit and the university’s internal investigation.
But Miller said the statement “didn’t go far enough to singularly center the survivor.”
Of course not. But I had a call w/her about what are the immediate, short term & long term things we can do to curate a conversation & how can we support survivors. I don’t buy pending litigation argument. We can other discussions about truth & reconciliation/rupture & repair
— Monica McLemore PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN #OnSabbatical (@mclemoremr) March 2, 2021
A spokesperson for Choo said that when the plaintiff approached her, Choo “acted in a way that was 100% consistent with those values, offering to do everything that she could to support her friend, while at the same time respecting her friend’s own agency in making decisions about what to do.”
“If this litigation moves forward, documentary evidence will be presented that will paint a picture of Esther’s conduct that is completely different from what has been reported in the press,” the spokesperson said.
Time’s Up Healthcare also sent out a “form response” to each person who resigned, McLemore said. She described its text as, “Thank you so much for your note, we’re sorry for the conclusion you have reached but of course, we respect it.”
Time’s Up Healthcare recently lost its executive director, Lauren Powell, and has remained relatively quiet during the Covid-19 pandemic; the Time’s Up Healthcare Twitter account last posted on April 7, 2020.
“We haven’t had a leader since she left,” McLemore said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the organization.”