Randy Gepp Successfully Represents Grady Hospital Against Sexual-Harassment Claims
By Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution The federal appeals court in Atlanta has dismissed a lawsuit against Grady Hospital filed by three women who claimed a counselor sexually harassed them. The women said the substance abuse counselor, Steve Kimbrell, who no longer works at Grady, made unwanted sexual advances on them while they were being treated for opiate addiction at Grady's methadone clinic. According to court records, before Grady hired Kimbrell in July 2004, he had been fired or had resigned from three previous jobs amid similar complaints by female patients. Last Thursday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the three women's remaining claims against Grady and a number of the hospital's senior employees. Before the appeal was filed in July 2008, Kimbrell had settled his case with the women for $60,000. His lawyer, Larry Rosenbluth, said Kimbrell denied the allegations in court filings, but settled because that was in his best interest to do at the time. Randy Gepp, a lawyer for Grady, said the hospital was pleased with the court's decision. "Grady's procedures were found to be acceptable," he said. "Grady complied with the law." The moment Grady learned about the first complaint against Kimbrell, it suspended him, Gepp said. After it conducted an investigation and found Kimbrell had withheld the truth as to why he left previous jobs, Grady fired him, he said, adding, "Grady did everything it should have done." Kimbrell had been on the job for less than a year when a female patient complained in April 2005 he had made inappropriate advances during counseling sessions. The woman, described as Jane Doe No. 1, reported that Kimbrell said he wanted to engage in oral sex with her; put his hands under her shirt, touching her stomach and back; asked her to bring nude pictures to her counseling sessions; and told her she aroused him when she was in his office, according to court records. He often locked his office door, despite her requests to keep it open, during the sessions, the ruling said. Kimbrell was suspended and, within weeks, two other women lodged similar complaints against him. Grady then called Kimbrell's former employers and learned his unwelcome sexual behavior had not been confined to Grady, the ruling said. At one prior job, a patient had accused Kimbrell of trying to exchange sex for money. At another, the mother of an adolescent female patient complained he had instructed her daughter to sit in his lap, straddling him. In its ruling, the 11th Circuit said Grady and its senior employees could not be found liable for Kimbrell's conduct because it was not committed within the scope of his employment. Based on the allegations, "Kimbrell acted purely for his own gratification," the court said. The court also dismissed claims that Grady failed to conduct an adequate background check before hiring Kimbrell. It found employees followed proper screening protocols. The women's lawyer, Matthew Billups, said he will ask the 11th Circuit to reconsider the decision. Billups said he found particularly troubling the court's finding that a Grady human resources official sought information about Kimbrell's past when there was almost no evidence she had tried to do so. The court failed to get the facts right in this decision, Billups said. "I don't know why. But this is not what happened."