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Former south Charlotte eye doctor accused of sex harassment by his staff has died

Jonathan Christenbury performs eye surgery on a patient in 2003. The former south Charlotte doctor died of a heart attack at his home on Friday, July 19, 2019. He was 64.
Jonathan Christenbury performs eye surgery on a patient in 2003. The former south Charlotte doctor died of a heart attack at his home on Friday, July 19, 2019. He was 64. Observer file

Former Charlotte eye doctor Jonathan Christenbury, who surrendered his medical license amid sexual harassment claims by his staff, died of a heart attack at his home on Friday, according to his obituary published in The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. He was 64.

Christenbury “became a pioneer in laser vision correction and intraocular lens implantation surgery” after opening his eye practice in 1987, according to his obituary.

A 1973 alumnus of Charlotte Christian School, Christenbury graduated from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., in 1977, and Duke University School of Medicine in 1981, his family wrote in his obituary. He was well known in the Charlotte region as a prominent eye doctor with expertise in Lasik surgery, his face familiar to the public from extensive advertising.

“He performed the first Lasik eye surgery in the Carolinas in the early 1990s, was a clinical investigator for the Food and Drug Administration for many novel laser eye technologies, and successfully performed over 100,000 laser vision correction surgeries,” according to the obituary.

Those accomplishments were overshadowed by two sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him in 2017 by two of his former employees, including a former Charlotte Hornets dancer, the Observer reported at the time.

Niloufar Saniri, the former dancer whom Christenbury hired in 2014, said in her lawsuit that Christenbury offered her $5,000 for sex and stalked her and her friends on a trip to Miami, the Observer reported. Chelsea Viviani Pierce, the other former employee who filed a lawsuit, said in her complaint that the doctor also touched her inappropriately, the Observer previously reported.

Amid the lawsuits, Christenbury voluntarily surrendered his medical license in late 2017 to the North Carolina Medical Board, which was about to investigate him, a board spokeswoman told the Observer at the time.

Christenbury tested positive for cocaine during a drug screening in November 2017, the N.C. Medical Board disclosed in April 2018, the Observer reported at the time. He admitted to ingesting the drug in October 2017 to alleviate depression, according to a legal notice filed by the board.

In June 2018, Christenbury settled the lawsuit filed by Saniri, Observer news partner WBTV reported at the time. The status of Pierce’s lawsuit was not immediately known on Wednesday.

In August 2018, the Observer reported that Christenbury Eye Center’s filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy filing claimed the center had up to $10 million in debts and no more than $50,000 in assets.

In Christenbury’s obituary, his family described him as “a loving and attentive husband and father who shared his love of skiing, scuba diving, Carolina Panther football, and Duke Basketball with his wife and children. He had a kind and generous spirit and was passionate about helping the underprivileged in his community.”

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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