Should I Take Legal Action Against the Doctor With Whom I Had an Affair?

Question: I am a nurse, married and had a romantic/sexual relationship with a married doctor for 4 years, until I was on medical leave for a year and only saw him couple of times. I also almost cut off my phone contact with him. I came back to work and he told me he is seeing another nurse because he got lonely.

Currently, it is difficult for me to concentrate at work. I approached my boss and basically told my boss the situation. Because of that conversation, I have learned that this is the doctor’s MO and there are so many nurses that are still there and some have moved. I also think the current GF knew about me. The doctor stopped talking to me, because I told him so. My question is, what legal matter I can bring about this, to stop him from preying on nurses? I felt I was a victim.

Our response:
Many people, in all jobs and professions, form close friendships with those who are sharing their work experiences. Unfortunately, between men and women, a romantic and sexual relationship is often viewed as the only way those friendships can be expressed.  

Then, once a person has one relationship at work, it’s easier to consider it another time. Anyone who has observed work environments over time, would attest that men and women who are open to relationships may move from one person to another, as attraction for one person diminishes and a new interest is found. Or, as in your case, when one part of the couple is no longer around. In your situation, it sounds as though absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder for either of you. So, you have five options:

1. Although we’re not attorneys and don’t have the expertise to help you about the legal aspect of it, we can give general advice. If you have evidence that you were coerced or that you tried to stop the relationship but were threatened or felt that you wouldn’t keep your job if you said no, then you may have a basis for an EEO action against him. You may want to consider looking at the EEOC website to see if there are guidelines for such cases, given that he is, culturally at least, considered a higher rank than you.

2. It seems to me that your most likely avenue would be through the HR department of your organization, if you work for a clinic or hospital. You’ve discussed this with your boss, so consider discussing it again to find out if he or she will assist you in reporting this as a violation of policies within the organization.

3. Whether or not your boss will assist you, you can certainly go to HR yourself and make a complaint about what seems to you to be his predatory behavior with nurses. You will need to be prepared to discuss some details of your own relationship with him and enough information to show that he was the aggressor. If you’re in a small office and there is no formal HR program or a way to make an organizational complaint, you will have to select one of the other options.

4. You may not consider this as a desirable or fair option: Find another place to work and in your exit interview make it clear what is causing you to leave.

5. Your last option is to focus on your work and your home and family and consider this to be a learning experience you won’t repeat again. If you have to work for your former romantic partner directly every day, that may not be possible. But, if you only occasionally have to interact with him, it may be possible for you to avoid him. Don’t discuss your former relationship with him and don’t discuss it with others. Just move forward and keep your dignity.

You may also find a resource in professional organizations of which you are a member.  I think you certainly should discuss this with someone who can either help you work through it–or help you take action about it, whichever is appropriate.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know about your decision and how things work out for you.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors