Professor found guilty of sexual harassment by UWC can move forward in discrimination suit, judge rules
Cardiology professor Michael Simons MED ’84 can move forward in his case alleging that the University discriminated against him because he is a man by punishing him twice for the same sexual harassment offense, a judge ruled last week.
Simons, who is still a University employee, was found guilty of sexual harassment in 2013 by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. At the time, he was the chief of cardiology at the School of Medicine and chief of cardiovascular medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital. He also held the Robert W. Berliner endowed chair. When Berliner’s daughter objected to Simons’ chairship, the University transferred him to the Waldemar von Zedtwitz professorship. But after backlash from students, faculty and alumni, the University removed him from the position.
In October of 2019, Simons filed a complaint against Yale, University President Peter Salovey, former Dean of the School of Medicine Robert Alpern and unknown persons who leaked information to the media. The complaint’s nine counts allege gender discrimination, breach of privacy, breach of contract, wrongful discharge and emotional distress. In November 2019, the University filed a motion to dismiss Simons’ complaint, which a U.S. district court judge ruled against on Sept. 30.
“Dr. Simons is a Caucasian male,” the complaint stated. “The defendants acted intentionally and in a discriminatory manner in regard to Dr. Simons for the express purpose of placating those #MeToo activists and sympathizers in the grip of moral panic and self-righteous indignation.”
In an email to the News, Alpern wrote that he is unable to respond to the pending litigation. Simons did not respond to requests for comment.
Simons’ lawyer Norm Pattis told the News that he would not comment. “The ruling speaks for itself,” Pattis wrote in an email to the News.
In the complaint, Simons claims that the University removed him first from his positions as chief of cardiovascular medicine and tenured professorships due to public pressure from sympathizers of the #MeToo movement.
“Said activists generated an implacable intolerance to any perceived instance of sexual harassment, inculcating an ethos requiring that victims be believed uncritically, and fostering a general climate of hysteria in which activists were unable to distinguish genuine acts of sexual misconduct from the sort of normal courting behavior customary between men and women, such as the love letter sent by Dr. Simons,” the complaint reads.
Simons also alleged that he suffered gender discrimination due to the fact that only Caucasian males have been punished twice by the University for sexual misconduct cases.
Yale’s response refutes Simons’ claim that he was doubly punished because of his gender. The University has not heard a sexual harassment complaint against a similarly situated female faculty member, Yale’s motion explains.
“Yale has an unwavering commitment to uphold standards of conduct essential to the maintenance of a safe, respectful, and inclusive campus,” University Spokesperson Karen Peart wrote in an email to the News. “These standards apply to all students, faculty, and staff, regardless of race or gender, and we will continue to defend this case vigorously.”
Details from Simons’ case date back to 2010, when he sent a romantic letter to a female junior colleague, who subsequently told him that she did not reciprocate his feelings. According to Simons’ complaint, the letter was “a declaration of love and romantic interest of the sort men have sent to women from time immemorial.”
She started up a relationship with another doctor who subsequently faced professional difficulties, which the two alleged was due to Simons’ interference.
In 2013, the junior colleague filed a sexual harassment complaint with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct. Former Connecticut Superior Court Judge Beverly Hodgson investigated the claim and found Simons guilty of sexual harassment, and the UWC recommended he be suspended as chief of cardiology for five years. Simons appealed and the suspension was ultimately reduced to 18 months.
But details of the proceedings surfaced in a subsequent New York Times investigation. Later in 2013, Simons resigned as chief of cardiology, and his complaint alleges the University forced his resignation due to the public outcry.
Simons continued to hold the position of the Robert W. Berliner chair of cardiology until Nancy Berliner ’75 MED ’79, the daughter of Robert Berliner and a former professor at the School of Medicine, objected to Simons’ professorship. In July of 2018, the University transferred Simons to the Von Zedtwitz Chair.
The action prompted public backlash, including an open letter from medical school students, alumni and faculty that amassed more than 1,000 signatures. The University then removed Simons from the position.
In October 2019, Simons filed a complaint against the University.
One month later, the University filed a motion to dismiss Simons’ case as time-barred, meaning that Simons filed the complaint too long after the alleged breach of contract for it to be considered in court. The alleged breach of contract happened in January 2013. But Simons did not file the complaint until over six years later, in October 2019, Yale’s memorandum in support of its motion reads.
The University also claims that Simons failed to perform his duties as outlined in his offer of employment. The offer directed Simons to the University’s Faculty Handbook, which expressly prohibits sexual misconduct, the memorandum reads.
“The plaintiff therefore not only fails to allege that he performed; he actually alleges that he failed to perform,” Yale’s memorandum states. “In other words, he breached what he alleges was a material term of the contract prior to any claimed breach by the University Defendants, thereby relieving them of their obligation to perform.”
Members of the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine did not wish to comment on the case.
The University is represented by lawyers at Clendenen & Shea, LLC.
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Editor’s note: This article and its headline have been updated to clarify that Simons was found guilty of sexual harassment by the UWC, not a court of law.