August 2003 Bulletin

Academy enforces zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment

By Richard N. Peterson, JD

The AAOS has adopted a "zero tolerance policy" against sexual harassment. It applies to Academy staff and all individuals, including physicians, working on the Academy's behalf and covers the conduct of both employees and orthopaedic surgeons.

According to Academy President James H. Herndon, MD, "The Academy has not and will not tolerate the sexual harassment of any Academy employee or volunteer under any circumstance. The Board of Directors adopted the Academy's Policy Against Sexual Harassment in December 1998 and it has served in the best interest of our organization and its valued employees."

Dr. Herndon stressed that the Academy has maintained its Policy Against Sexual Harassment not because of any particular identified problem at the Academy, but rather because of heightened cultural sensitivities to this issue as well as the changing litigation environment. The number of legal cases alleging sexual harassment has increased exponentially in recent years. Several recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions put all employers, including the Academy, at increased risk of sexual harassment lawsuits. Fortunately, the cases also provide certain elements that, if rigorously followed, will help avoid liability in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The Academy's policy meets the specific requirements of these cases.

The Academy's Policy on Sexual Harassment specifically applies to physician interactions with Academy staff, not only to relationships among Academy employees. The policy expressly states that the "Academy will not tolerate the sexual harassment of any employee by an employee or any non-employee," including orthopaedic surgeons.

The Academy's policy defines "sexual harassment" very broadly, as is legally required. It is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: (1) submission to such conduct is made (either explicitly or implicitly) a term or condition of an individual's employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating a threatening, intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."

Under the policy, the Academy (through an Investigation Team that may consist of trained senior level employees or physicians) investigates all complaints of sexual harassment promptly, thoroughly and fairly. The investigation may include individual interviews with the parties involved and, where necessary, with individuals who may have observed the alleged conduct or may have other relevant knowledge. Every attempt will be made to keep facts learned during the investigation as confidential as possible, and such facts will be disclosed only to those who have a legitimate need to know. The Academy communicates the resolution of each complaint to the parties involved, including a description of what action, if any, has been taken in response to the complaint.

Any employee or physician who is found to have violated this Sexual Harassment Policy will be subject to appropriate action, including employee discipline or Fellowship censure or suspension. In addition, any employee or physician who knowingly falsely accuses another of sexual harassment will similarly be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. The Academy specifically prohibits reprisals or retaliation against an employee or physician who makes a good faith report of sexual harassment or who provides information about such alleged harassment.

Each member of the Academy staff has received a copy of the Academy's Policy against Sexual Harassment, has attended an orientation session regarding the policy and each year signs a statement indicating their awareness of the policy. In addition, the Policy is distributed annually to all Academy Committees and is discussed during orientation of new members of the Board of Directors, the Board of Councilors, new Committee and Council Chairs, and the Leadership Fellows Group. While the Policy Against Sexual Harassment may change over time in response to societal and Academy needs, the Academy continues to stress the great importance it attaches to widespread adherence to this policy by Academy staff and orthopaedic surgeons.

Richard N. Peterson, JD, is General Counsel of the AAOS. He can be reached at

Home Previous Page