Columbia University Sued Over Alleged Sexual Assault by Gynecologist

“We need to hold institutions accountable…this can’t just be a hashtag. It has to be real action and the way to do that is through changes in our legal system.” 
-Melissa Hoechstetter, victim of Robert Hadden, former Columbia University gynecologist


A civil lawsuit in New York was filed this week, accusing a top New York City gynecologist of sexual abuse.

17 women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by Dr. Robert Hadden, a former gynecologist employed by Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian hospital. According to the lawsuit, a large number of Columbia administrators and fellow colleagues have been aware of Hadden’s behavior since the 1990s and had proactively attempted to cover up for him, as well as allowing him to continue practicing, and abusing, his patients.

In a 2016 criminal case against Robert Hadden, 6 women came forward with allegations of abuse. Hadden pleaded guilty to two counts of a criminal sexual act and forcible touching, admitting to taking advantage of patients by touching them inappropriately. He was given a plea deal that required him to surrender his license to practice medicine. He was also required to register as a level one sex offender, the lowest level possible in New York State. This classification leaves Robert Hadden out of the sex offender database, meaning if one were searching for his name, it would not appear in the registry. He was given no jail time and no probation.


Minimal Punishment in Criminal Case Spurs Civil Lawsuit
As a part of the plea deal with Robert Hadden, the state agreed to not pursue criminal charges for 19 other women who could have been potential victims. Frustrated by the minimal punishment Dr. Hadden received, as well as the lack of acknowledgement by Columbia University that they were aware of his behavior, victim Melissa Hoechstetter joined with 16 other victims to file a civil lawsuit this year against Columbia and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

The lawsuit alleges that Robert Hadden abused his position of power and trust as a medical doctor, allegedly touching, penetrating and licking victims’ genitals during procedures that were not medically necessary. Ms. Hoechstetter and the other 16 victims (who have all been included anonymously in the lawsuit) are accusing Columbia for taking part in a “massive coverup” of Dr. Hadden’s behavior, with evidence that nurses have come forward with concerns about Robert Hadden as far back as the 1990s.

In an exclusive interview with CBS News yesterday, Ms. Hoechstetter describes her interactions with Robert Hadden, telling CBS that she decided to see him for her obstetrical and gynecological care after meeting him at a friend’s wedding. She was a patient of his from 2009-2012 and during that time gave birth to twin daughters under his care. Looking back, she says he ruined any possible happy memories of her pregnancy because they are tainted with flashbacks of his inappropriate behavior. She said she began questioning whether what was happening was legal when he would conduct exams with no one in the room, exams that often didn’t seem necessary.  Her final visit to Robert Hadden ended with him licking her genitals during a vaginal exam.


Breach of Trust
In filing a civil suit, Ms. Hoechstetter and the other 16 victims are not only hoping for justice, but also to educate other women about acceptable behavior in a medical setting. One of the things that caused Melissa Hoechstetter pause was the appearance of his office and his staff. Robert Hadden’s office and colleagues were “professional and welcoming.” She describes how she wasn’t sure if what was happening was illegal or a crime, but she knew that she felt uncomfortable. She encourages women to educate themselves on appropriate behavior by medical personnel and to feel empowered to say something instead of just walking away or enduring it.

There is an ethical code of conduct that all medical processionals must adhere to. As patients, we put an enormous amount of trust and faith in doctors whom have taken an oath to respect us by, among other things, providing understanding, sympathetic care. One never expects that someone who has sworn to care for others would violate such an important relationship. However, sexual abuse does happen in medical setting. In her interview with CBS, Ms. Hoechstetter says “People do not want to talk about sexual abuse by medical professionals. It is way more common than any of us know.”

If you or someone you love has been subject to sexual abuse by someone in a position of power, you may have reason to file a civil lawsuit. Criminal charges focus on punishment for a crime committed, while civil lawsuits attempt to bring justice to those whom have been impacted by another’s abusive or neglectful actions.

If you would like to speak to a lawyer about possible abuse by someone in a position of power, please contact the medical malpractice and injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti. For nearly 3 decades, our attorneys have dedicated their lives to bringing justice to those whom have been harmed by medical professionals.  Consultations are free and can be requested by calling (312) 332-2872 in Chicago, toll-free at 1-877-374-1417 or by completing our online case evaluation form.




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