RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A woman who says she was kicked out of a North Carolina nursing school a month before graduation in retaliation for accusing a supervisor of sexual harassment is suing in a case supported by the Time's Up movement legal fund.
Autumn Davis sued two supervisors at the University of North Carolina Greensboro nursing school in state court, and sued the school, the UNC Board of Governors and the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia in federal court. The nurse anesthesia school is a nonprofit associated with UNCG's program, the lawsuit says.
"These are, in my view, bad actors," said Davis' attorney, Nicholas Sanservino Jr. "There appears to be a culture of retaliation unlike anything I've seen."
Davis, 35, said the harassment began less than a year after she enrolled in the doctor of nursing program at UNCG in August 2015 with hopes of becoming a nurse anesthesiologist. She was assigned to work at WakeMed Raleigh Hospital under the supervision of a male certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA. Davis said his harassment grew during each encounter — from dinner invitations to trying to pull her into a room. During one shift, as she used both her hands to intubate patients, "he would put himself on me while he was aroused," she said in a phone interview.
"That was when I said, 'This is going way too far,'" she said.
She reported the harassment in July 2016, and she said that's when the retaliation started.
"They started trying to find things," she said. One supervisor told her "If I can't get you for this, I can get you for something else," she said.
Months later, on Oct. 31, 2016, she was reassigned to do her clinical work with her harasser, Davis and the lawsuits said.
The lawsuits provide this timeline: In June 2018, a month before she was to graduate, Davis was dismissed from the program for what the school said were unsafe nursing practices. After she appealed, UNCG allowed her to reenroll in January 2019 for a tuition of $10,000. A month after she began classes, she was again dismissed for unsafe nursing practices. UNCG upheld Davis' dismissal in May 2019.
The director of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, Sharyn Tejani, said in a phone interview most victims of sexual harassment also face retaliation.
"Retaliation itself is illegal," she said. "But when people complain, it's just very common that employers retaliate."
Under the fund's vetting process, an individual applies for an attorney, and the fund pays for one free visit from a network of about 700 attorneys nationwide who have agreed to take the cases. About 4,000 people have applied since the fund started in early 2018, she said. After that, the attorney must apply online for funds to pay legal fees.
In April, the state settled a lawsuit brought by a male student, Joseph Emanuelson, who said he was harassed and physically assaulted in December 2013 while working at Duke Raleigh Hospital as a student at UNCG's nursing school and the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia.
Before graduation, Davis had a job offer that would have paid $150,000 a year, she said. She's now working for the same employer, earning about $50,000 a year, she said. She declined to name the employer; she would say only that she lives in the Charlotte area.
She's seeking unspecified damages, including loss of income and repayment of tuition, Sanservino said.
In response to the federal lawsuit filed in August, the state attorney general's office said Davis can't prove a connection between her dismissal and the filing of her harassment claim. The response also said Davis provides no evidence the state defendants controlled the man she has accused of harassment, who was employed by WakeMed.
The state's response said her lawsuit "lacks a single allegation that the CRNA sexually harassed her any time after July 2016" and the defendants' response wasn't clearly unreasonable because "the harassment by the CRNA stopped — permanently — after she reported the incidents."
The CRNA named in the state lawsuit as the man who harassed her, Jimmy Kimball Jr., declined comment when the AP reached him on the phone. The UNCG nursing school supervisors named in the state lawsuit — Nancy Shedlick and Linda Stone — didn't respond to emails.
The school website says Stone and Shedlick are clinical assistant professors and Shedlick is the program director for the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia while Stone is the RSNA assistant program director.
The first deposition is scheduled for Dec. 10 in the state case, Sanservino said, but he doesn't expect any action in the federal case until 2020.