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Court Upholds Verdict Against UConn For Sexual Harassment By A Health Center Dentist

A federal appeals court has found that the University of Connecticut Health Center is responsible for the behavior of a dentist who sexually harassed a co-worker and upheld a $125,000 verdict awarded to the coworker by a jury in Hartford a year ago.

A three judge panel on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a summary order Tuesday that the hospital had reason to be aware of Dr. Michael Young’s behavior and should have acted to prevent it. The court said the hospital was aware of a complaint against Young years before dental assistant Mindy MacCluskey reported his behavior, repeatedly, to colleagues and supervisors in 2009.

“The Supreme Court has weighed in on this and the law is very clear,” said MacCluskey’s lawyer, Tani E. Sapirstein, of Springfield.

The appeals court said in its order that it is “undisputed” that MacCluskey was harassed by Young, who under the circumstances of the case, was considered a co-worker rather than a supervisor. The two worked together treating inmates in the state prison system.

The court said the question it resolved in MacCluskey’s favor was whether the health center “knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the harassment but failed to take appropriate action.”

MacCluskey began as a dental assistant at the health enter in 2008, working two days a week with Young at a prison clinic. Six months later, Young began to make improper comments about her appearance and personal life and, according to the appeals court, “invaded her personal space.”

MacCluskey complained to two co-workers and Young’s supervisor intervened. MacCluskey told the supervisor that she believed she could control the “situation.” However, the appeals court said Young’s behavior worsened. At one point, MacCluskey reported to her supervisor that Young had inappropriately grabbed her. The health center investigated and Young chose to resign rather than be fired.

The appeals court said Young had been disciplined for sexually inappropriate behavior towards a different dental assistant in 2000. In response to the first complaint and subsequent investigation, Young was given a “last chance” agreement which included ta ten‐day suspension, an order to consult a psychiatrist and termination if the behavior was repeated.

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