Columbia University and its hospitals sued over doctor's sexual abuse
Posted December 7, 2018 2:09 p.m. EST
(CNN) — Seventeen women are accusing Columbia University and the NewYork-Presbyterian hospital system of enabling a sexually abusive doctor over roughly 20 years of practice, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York Supreme Court. The doctor, Robert Hadden, pleaded guilty in 2016 to criminal sex act in the third degree and forcible touching, surrendering his medical license, according to court documents. He received no jail time.
Hadden is also named as a defendant in Tuesday's suit. Columbia University and the NewYork-Presbyterian system are alleged to have "repeatedly and actively concealed, conspired and enabled the sexual exploitation and abuse being committed by defendant Robert Hadden" as early as 1993. Hadden, who court filings say is a resident of New Jersey, could not be reached for comment. His attorney in that case, Bill Vaslas, has not responded to multiple requests for comment. CNN was not able to identify Hadden's legal representation in the new case.
According to the suit, Hadden, who worked as an obstetrician at the defendants' medical facilities, repeatedly abused women, subjecting them to medically unnecessary vaginal and anal penetration, often without gloves; "serial, prolonged, and medically inappropriate breast examinations" and questions about their sexual activity, including whether their sexual partner was able to "satisfy them."
Of the 17 plaintiffs, 16 are anonymous. One accuser, "Jane Doe #16" in court documents, was delivered by Hadden as a baby, and was in high school when she became a patient of his. According to the filing, Hadden directed Jane Doe #16, a minor at the time, to "get on all fours" during her initial visit, before proceeding to "rub both of his ungloved hands up and down her body," groping her, going on to "spread her buttocks," and conduct a vaginal examination.
Hadden is also accused of licking patients' vaginas on multiple occasions during purported medical exams. "This guy had no bottom," Anthony DiPietro, attorney for the accusers, told CNN Thursday.
Marissa Hoechstetter, the only named plaintiff in the case, told CNN that after Hadden assaulted her during a May 2012 exam, she never returned to see him. Hoechstetter saw Hadden from 2009-2012. He was her doctor during and immediately after her pregnancy with twin daughters. "It's so hard to ever admit to yourself that it happened," she said.
Court records say Hadden made sexual comments to Hoechstetter during his time as her doctor. During her postpartum hospital stay, the suit alleges, Hadden came to her bedside, exposed her breasts, and said, "You look like a porn star."
Hadden, along with Columbia University and its associated medical facilities, were also the defendants in a 2017 civil suit. The 2017 suit was filed by four unnamed plaintiffs accusing Hadden of sexual abuse and the university of failing to protect patients from it. That case is ongoing.
According to the suit filed Tuesday, a nurse who worked with Hadden at Columbia University's Audubon Clinic walked in on an instance of abuse in the early 1990s, and reported it. The complaint says that the nurse was told to "keep quiet," and "stay with your doctor" and not to "let him get himself in trouble." DiPietro told CNN that the goal of Tuesday's suit was to hold larger institutions accountable.
"These super-predators can't exist without the support of an institution around them," he said.
Hoechstetter agreed. "I think the institutions that employ and protect these people have a responsibility," she said. "This is a hospital. This is where people go for care."
A NewYork-Presbyterian spokesperson declined to comment for this story. Columbia University said in a statement, "the allegations leading to Robert Hadden's 2016 guilty plea and the accusations contained in this recent complaint are abhorrent. Mr. Hadden has not practiced medicine at Columbia since 2012." The university added that though it "cannot comment on matters in litigation, we stand with medical professionals everywhere in condemning this appalling behavior."