New York City Hospital Settles Sexual Harassment Case

April 10, 2003 ( - Lutheran Medical Center has agreed to pay $5.4 million as part of an out-of-court settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit over allegations a hospital doctor inappropriately touched more than 50 women workers during mandatory physical exams.

The settlement came in a suit by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that Dr. Conrado Ponio fondled and touched the breasts and genitals of at least eight female nurses during pre-employment physical exams, asked prying and embarrassing questions, and threatened to deny or delay their employment if they did not cooperate, according to a report in the New York Law Journal. The suit charges that the events took place while Ponio worked at Lutheran Medical in New York City from 1996 to 2000.

The proposed agreement requires the hospital to pay the $5.4 million in damages, implement a sexual harassment awareness-training program, and promise never to rehire Ponio. The parties submitted the proposed agreement to US District Judge Leonard Sand of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York for approval.

After the eight original plaintiffs brought their allegations to the EEOC, the agency canvassed the rest of the hospital’s employees and found that at least 43 other women said they were also victimized.

Complaining to Management

Several of the nurses subjected to Ponio’s alleged assaults during a December 1999 to January 2000 orientation complained to hospital management, and he was fired shortly after. A month later, Ponio was arrested on misdemeanor sexual abuse charges filed by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

However, the complaint alleges, the hospital knew or should have known as early as 1996, when Ponio was first hired, that he may have been sexually harassing female employees. Management received at least one complaint that Ponio unnecessarily required a woman to remove her bra during an exam, and had previously been the subject of a complaint filed in California in 1988, the complaint alleges.

Wendy Goldstein, president and chief executive of Lutheran Medical Center, said in a statement that the hospital “deplore[d]” the behavior of the doctor, “which is contrary to everything in which we believe.”

Goldstein, who took the post at Lutheran Medical two years ago, said that “much has changed” since the hospital first became aware of the complaints against Ponio. It has put in place a number of safeguards to “ensure that such intolerable behavior as Dr. Ponio’s cannot be repeated,” she said.

Ponio was ultimately found guilty of a non-criminal violation. His license to practice medicine in New York state was also revoked.