This is the second installment of a series of blog pieces about sexual harassment at Encompass Health. After a former employee posted a link to the previous blog piece, the Interim CEO of the Colorado Springs hospital held what could fairly be called a damage-control meeting. She revealed that she had sought talking points from Encompass’ legal counsel. One of the talking points was that this blog is just “attorney advertising”. While this blog is attorney advertising, and we know that some people who read our blog visit our website, these nine women who filed Charges of Discrimination believe the blog will help to ensure that what happened at Encompass does not happen again – at Encompass or elsewhere. These blog pieces comport with the information those nine had, collectively, when they filed the Charges and what has transpired since and they want you to know this is their collective voice as well as ours.
“Encompass Health cannot resolve matters that are not brought to the attention of an appropriate member of Management.”
“Additionally, any employees, managers or supervisors who become aware of any possible unlawful harassment or other violation of this policy, whether they are personally affected or not, is directed to advise their superior, the human resources department or any senior member of administration.”
“Encompass Health conducts a prompt and thorough investigation of the complaint or observation of possible unlawful harassment or discrimination and takes appropriate action based on its investigation.”
Allegation of Sexual Assault: Women Complain to CEO Schaefer and Encompass
Encompass has traditionally held an offsite Christmas party. Encompass through CEO Schaefer has paid for abundant alcohol at these events. Schaefer has typically become extremely intoxicated. So did the harassing provider, who then became even more aggressive with young, female Encompass employees.
At the December 3, 2022 Christmas party, which Encompass held at the Phantom Canyon Brewery, Schaefer announced it during his speech at the beginning of the night there was $2,000 to spend on the bar tab. He proceeded to spill his drink all over himself at the party. When the $2,000 was used up the provider made a payment to enable further drinking. At about 9:30 p.m., an afterparty began in a bar located in a lower level of the Brewery. The harassing provider bought additional drinks there for female staff.
A female Encompass employee who attended the afterparty became too incapacitated to walk without assistance. With another party attendee, the provider helped her to his own car. They drove her to the provider’s home, not hers. In her complaint to Encompass and the EEOC, she stated that she woke up the following day, December 4, in the provider’s bed, unclothed, with his hand on her private parts. Her complaint stated that she had no idea how she went from the afterparty the night before to his home, or what transpired while she was incapacitated. In her EEOC charge, she noted that the provider first told her “we did everything but have sex,” which she understood to mean that while she was incapacitated, he did everything but have intercourse with her. A day or two later at work the provider told her that “they just did hand stuff.”
On December 5, the female employee went to an Emergency Room to have a rape kit performed.
On December 8, 2022, she made a formal verbal complaint to Human Resources. The news that a female employee had complained she was sexually assaulted by the provider spread quickly among the women at the hospital. The same unwanted grabbing around the shoulders or waist, and obscene sexual speech, which they had been conditioned to accept, now seemed outright dangerous.
On December 9, she turned in a detailed formal written statement. It explained why she concluded that the provider had engaged in sex with her when she was incapacitated. However, her formal written complaint went much further. It stated that:
Over the last 3 years of working for Encompass, I have continuously observed [the provider] making inappropriate/sexual comments to and about women while at work. He also has always found opportunities to come up behind me and place his hands on my back or shoulders when I’m not expecting it. I’ve also observed him do this kind of inappropriate touching to other women on countless of occasions, in addition to my own experience. There has also been an observed pattern where [the provider] has continuously brought up sex and sexual topics at work in front of myself and other women.
For years a supervising therapist had routinely warned new female hires that the provider would sexually harass them. She sometimes provided details of what he would do. In addition, Management had received a warning as part of a routine employee engagement survey in November 2022 that there was a culture at the hospital of approving sexual harassment, which made going to Human Resources uncomfortable. While CEO Schaefer shared some other comments from the employee engagement survey with the hospital staff, he omitted that one. Pursuant to its sexual harassment policy quoted above, this formal written complaint should have galvanized Encompass to act on what it already knew.
Encompass Violates its Sexual Harassment Policy
According to its own Sexual Harassment Policy which promised a “prompt and thorough investigation of the complaint or observation of possible unlawful harassment” it was mandatory for Encompass Headquarters to interview the female staff who worked with the provider to determine whether he had been engaged in “inappropriate touching to other women on countless of occasions” and a “pattern where [the provider] has continuously brought up sex and sexual topics at work in front of myself and other women,” as the formal written complaint alleged.
CEO Schaefer, Vice President and Regional Human Resources Director Rob Rosene, and the Encompass Headquarters Associate General Counsel working with Rosene began an investigation. Not a “thorough” investigation, as promised by Encompass sexual harassment policy, which would have included the detailed written allegation of years of sexual harassment of the female staff by the provider. Rosene and Encompass limited the investigation to the female victims’ allegation that the provider engaged in sex with her following the Encompass Christmas party when she was incapacitated and unable to consent.
By failing to conduct a “thorough” investigation when it received detailed written notice on December 9, 2022, Encompass caused that same woman and others, to suffer even further, and in some cases, quite severely.
During this limited investigation, the provider was suspended. Rosene reported to Encompass’s Medical Executive Committee that the female victim’s complaint could not be corroborated. This was false because later, her formal written complaint of widespread physical and verbal sexual harassment by the provider was finally investigated, and three months later, corroborated. Not before the provider caused additional trauma, however. The Executive Committee approved the finding that the alleged assault could not be corroborated, and recommended that the provider return to work and receive training on sexual harassment. The Governing Body approved the recommendation.
Either he never received the sexual harassment training or it was woefully inadequate, because when he returned the provider immediately continued his sexual harassment of the women he had been harassing for years. The provider continued to touch women inappropriately. After one Complainant literally told him to take his hands off her, he touched her again against her wishes. She reported this to CEO Schaefer.
Another Complainant told CEO Schaefer the provider had touched her inappropriately and she wanted it to stop. He told her to come back to him if it happened again. When it did, and she came back to him and told him as instructed, Schaefer asked her why she hadn’t just told the provider to stop touching her. When she reminded CEO Schaefer that was his job, he casually responded that he was actually texting with the provider and would mention it to him. Yet the provider continued to engage in inappropriate unwanted touching of the women with whom he worked, even after these complaints to CEO Schaefer that he had resumed touching women inappropriately.
The female victim who had alleged the sexual assault had a full-on psychotic break, just days after learning that Encompass had belatedly decided not to continue the provider’s hospital privileges. She was hospitalized for a week in the beginning of March and is still receiving therapy to help her address her ordeal. All of the pain and suffering of the Nine Complainants could have been avoided had Encompass Health acted on the knowledge it had (at least) through senior supervisors at the hospital that the provider had engaged in sexual harassment for years, had it followed its own sexual harassment policy.