Ms F, 26, was a nurse working in a Veteran’s Administration (VA) facility. She began working there starting the November after her graduation. Getting through school had been challenging, as Ms F was a single mother and had a 4-year-old child at home, but she was determined to succeed.
Her first 6 months on the job were fine. She enjoyed the work, and the feedback she received was positive. But then she was assigned to work with Mr G, and everything changed. Mr G, a physician assistant, was in his 30s and had been with the VA for several years. He was immediately attracted to Ms F and made that attraction quite obvious.
It started with compliments on her looks and progressed to asking her out. Ms F always politely declined and just tried to laugh off the situation. As time went by, however, Mr G became increasingly persistent—moving on from suggestions of dates to suggestions of sexual encounters. Ms F rebuffed him each time, but that only seemed to encourage him. “Stop fighting it,” he told her, “You’ll say ‘yes’ one of these days, and we will be together. I know how to make you smile.”
As the months went by, the unwanted attention only increased. When Ms F found herself alone with Mr G, he began touching her and trying to kiss her despite her clearly telling him “no.” Ms F did not know whom to talk to. She was afraid that if she complained to the administration about Mr G’s actions, she might face backlash, perhaps even jeopardizing her own job. With a child at home dependent on her salary, she was afraid to risk that. Her solution was to try to avoid ever being alone with Mr G, but that was not easy.
The more Ms F tried to avoid Mr G, the more it seemed to egg him on. He would sneak up on her when she was in a storage room, or make suggestive sounds when she walked by. He also told her that he had a concealed carry permit and sometimes kept a weapon in his car. Her anxiety increased, and she began to dread the job she had once loved.
Finally, after almost 10 months of harassment, things came to a head when Mr G cornered Ms F in an empty bathroom and tried to force himself on her. She fled the room but realized she could not go on like this anymore. She reported Mr G to her supervisor. The supervisor contacted the VA’s law enforcement officials, and Ms F filed a report with them, and with the civilian police.
Mr G was transferred to another facility and placed on suspension, and Ms F was given a week of authorized absence. After the week, Ms F requested to be transferred from that particular VA facility. Instead, she was granted 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave, and 10 days’ worth of advanced sick leave.
The police investigation of Mr G ended in his criminal conviction, which then resulted in Mr G being fired from the VA.
During her leave, Ms F was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the incident. She submitted medical documentation of her diagnosis of PTSD from the assault and requested a transfer to a different unit of the facility or to a different facility. However, the VA replied that based on other medical documentation Ms F was fit to return to duty, and it was the facility’s policy in sexual harassment cases to transfer the perpetrator, not the victim. When her medical leave ran out, Ms F was fired for not returning to her former job in the original location.
Ms F sought the counsel of an attorney. After hearing her story, the attorney agreed that she had a case, and he filed a lawsuit against the VA, alleging numerous offenses including sexual harassment/hostile work environment, and disability discrimination based on her diagnosis of PTSD. The VA responded by filing a motion to dismiss all the claims against it. A federal district court had to decide whether the case should proceed.