Crime & Courts

Charlotte-area doctor settles sexual harassment suit

A Charlotte-area doctor accused of chronic sexual harassment by three of his former employees has settled a federal lawsuit against him days before the trial was to start.

Dr. Hans Hansen, who operates Pain Relief Center clinics in Charlotte, Statesville and several other cities in the state, agreed to a confidential settlement of the lawsuit around the first of the year.

Hansen’s former employees Deana Lingle, Leslie Treadway and Robin Perun first took their complaints of months of chronic fondling, kisses and sexual propositioning by Hansen to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010, then filed suit in federal court a year later.

They claimed assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, supervision and retention, among other allegations.

Hansen and his attorneys claimed that the women ganged up to file trumped-up claims against him, changed their stories and did not follow company procedures for filing harassment complaints. They also argued that part of the women’s case should have been considered a worker’s compensation claim and heard by the N.C. Industrial Commission instead of a jury.

U.S. District Judge Richard Vorhees threw out the worker’s comp argument in late December, setting the stage for an early January trial. The settlement was reached a week before the opening gavel.

While the terms of the agreement have been sealed, the employees originally asked for damages in excess of $100,000. Their attorneys, Robert “Hoppy” Elliot of Winston-Salem and Ray Corne of Newton, did not return calls Tuesday.

Hansen could face action by the N.C. Medical Board, which investigates claims of unprofessional conduct against physicians. Spokeswoman Jean Fisher Brinkley said Tuesday that board investigations take four to six months and are confidential. Disciplinary actions, however, are made public. To date, Hansen has no such punishments on his record, Brinkley said.

Hansen’s attorneys, Patrick Kelly and Kathleen Lucchesi, both of Charlotte, did not return phone calls Tuesday.

The suit named Hansen, his clinics and Novant Medical Group, which owned the clinics before selling them to Hansen in late 2008.

By then, the women allege, Hansen’s harassment was well underway. According to their suit, his touching and propositioning escalated during 2008 and into February 2009. All three primarily worked at the company’s Conover clinic while helping out occasionally in the Statesville and Salisbury offices.

Lingle claimed the anesthesiologist grabbed her breasts, buttocks and genitals, requested that she sleep with him while his wife was out of town, and propositioned her to have sex and phone sex.

She said Hansen once told her: “You f--- everyone else. Why not let me?”

Treadway also said the physician fondled and propositioned her, urged her to get rid of her boyfriend, and told her that if she wanted to be his nurse, she had to “put out.”

Perun made many of the same allegations, accusing Hansen of commenting on her body, pulling up her shirt to see her breasts, and asking her if she was happy with her sex life.

Each of the women said they resisted his advances. Lingle and Treadway said they reported Hansen’s conduct to their bosses. The women say Hansen and his office manager retaliated against them by cutting their hours and denying leave, among other punitive steps.

All three women either left the company or were terminated, their lawsuit states. They have asked to be returned to their jobs as long as corrective measures were put in place to protect them.

Meanwhile, Hansen’s profile continues to grow. According to his company website, Pain Relief Center has added clinics in Charlotte and several other North Carolina cities. The Yale-trained physician is president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.

On Jan. 21, Hansen was named chief medical officer for VeriMed, a Charlotte pharmaceutical technology company that handles controlled substances. Researcher Maria David contributed.