A former director at the University of Texas Medical Branch has filed a claim of discrimination against his employer, asserting he was subject to unusually severe punishment for his handling of a sexual harassment allegation.
In a complaint filed earlier this year, Dr. Howard Brody said he was removed as director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities, placed on a yearlong leave of absence and saw his salary drastically cut for allegedly violating a medical branch policy that states: “Any faculty member or administrative personnel who gains knowledge of an alleged act of discrimination ... must report the incident within three business days to Employee Relations.”
In his complaint, Brody asserts he was singled out for an infraction that rarely was punished at the medical branch.
“Our independent investigation has revealed no other instance in which any UTMB employee has been subjected to such severe punishment for the same infraction,” Katherine T. Mize, a labor law attorney representing Brody, said in the complaint.
Medical branch officials declined to comment.
In early 2014, rumors were circulating that a faculty member in the Institute for the Medical Humanities was interacting inappropriately with a student. Brody heard all the talk, but was concerned the faculty member rumored to be engaging in sexual harassment was being targeted, he said. Those who were spreading the rumors didn’t like that particular faculty member, he said. And the talk had never reached a level at which Brody believed he needed to report it, he said in an interview.
When Brody urged other faculty members who were making the allegations to file an official complaint, they told him they weren’t confident any unlawful conduct occurred, Mize said.
“If they had, they would have reported it,” Mize said. “No one was ever willing to make a complaint.”
But in March 2014 a graduate student told Brody she intended to lodge a formal sexual harassment complaint against the faculty member who had been the subject of rumors.
Brody said he immediately encouraged her to do so.
“I told her to go ahead and encouraged her to keep me informed,” Brody said. He went on to tell the graduate student that she had protections and would have the full support of the faculty, he said.
In May 2014, Brody, 66, suffered a slight stroke for which he had to go on medical leave.
Faculty removed, probe begins
In August of 2014, the accused faculty member was removed from the Institute for the Medical Humanities.
Then another rumor began making the rounds — this time about how Brody was being investigated for his handling of the allegations.
“I was shocked,” Brody said.
In October 2014, Brody was called into the office of Danny O. Jacobs, executive vice president and provost, and dean of the School of Medicine, Brody said. Jacobs told Brody he had been accused of failing to notify Human Resources about sexual harassment in his department, Brody said.
Brody, who had been director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities since 2006, was removed from that position and put on leave of absence for one year, he said.
His yearly pay of $225,000 was reduced to $141,000, a 63-percent cut, Brody said.
Brody was denied access to his research materials and books for more than a year, according to the complaint. And he was forced to attend out-of-town training at his own expense — $6,923.70 — although similar training was available at much less cost and inconvenience, according to the complaint.
After he returned to work as a faculty member of the institute in October 2015, his pay remained at $141,000, he said. That year, he was denied leave to take care of his wife, who has a serious medical condition, according to the complaint.
New and unusual
Mize asserts no one at the medical branch had ever been dealt such a severe punishment for the same infraction, and that Brody is “entitled to find out whether the medical branch’s contention that the punishment fits the crime is true or a pretext for unlawful discrimination.”
“I had no personal knowledge of any allegations repeated to me by others, and yet I have been the only person punished for failing to report the allegations,” Brody said in an initial complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. “No other person who was aware of the allegations and failed to report them has suffered any adverse action.”
Brody said he isn’t certain why he was treated so harshly for the infraction, but suspects it was a handy way to remove him from the director position.
The Institute for the Medical Humanities exposes students to moral inquiry, research, teaching and professional service in medicine and health care. Members of the institute engage in research on ethical and legal problems in clinical practice and biomedical research; and on philosophical, historical, visual, literary and religious dimensions of medicine and health care.
As director, Brody worked to broaden the institute’s teachings to include social sciences such as psychology, sociology and anthropology.
“Things were handled so silently and surreptitiously that it was not possible to judge what people’s motives were,” Brody said. “My guess is that the senior faculty thought that by getting rid of me, they would ingratiate themselves with the dean, and return IMH to its older way of operating — focusing solely on philosophy, history, literature and religion, without paying any attention to the social sciences, which is one of the changes I made in the faculty mixture. There was basically an attempt to undo whatever I had done since 2006 and return IMH to what it was before that.”
Harsher than others
While Brody asserts his punishment was harsh, the medical branch has been accused of going too light in cases involving Dr. Garland Anderson, former executive vice president, provost and dean of medicine, and William R. Elger, former chief financial officer.
The executives had been stripped of their titles after legal settlements with women who accused them of gender discrimination. Both, however, were allowed to keep six-figure salaries and the title of “special adviser to the president.” Their treatment raised questions about double-standards and whether a pattern of laxity about such complaints was emerging.
Both men have since left the medical branch.
In May last year, the medical branch created a new department to oversee internal investigations about complaints of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.
But the three-day reporting requirement Brody was accused of violating had been on the books for years.
“We believe discovery will confirm that UTMB had never treated anyone as harshly as Dr. Brody for failing to report ‘any alleged act of discrimination … within three business days,” according to the complaint. “We already have witnesses to confirm this fact.”
If the medical branch wanted to resolve the case, Brody would have accepted the sum of $220,000 on or before Feb. 29 in exchange for complete release of his claims, according to the complaint.
“This amount simply returns him to the economic position he would have been in had UTMB treated him as it has treated others,” according to the complaint.