Former WVU doctor says co-worker behind harassments suits

By Cara Bailey | Mar 2, 2007

MORGANTOWN - A former physician at the West Virginia University School of Medicine is suing the school for $5 million, claiming a peer tried to harm his character by having several sexual harassment suits filed against him.

David Der Sarkissian filed a suit Feb. 22 in Monongalia Circuit Court, naming the West Virginia Board of Governors, West Virginia University School of Medicine and Dr. Shelley Nuss as defendants.

Der Sarkissian was a resident at the WVU School of Medicine in 2004-05. Shortly after entering the program, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The suit states that in October 2004, three women brought sexual harassment suits against Der Sarkissian. The sexual harassment policy defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct in a sexual nature. This includes forced submission to such conduct that is a basis of employment.

"The allegations of sexual harassment were brought by three women," the suit says. "None of the complaints describe physical contact."

Also, the suit states two of the accusers held supervisory positions over Der Sarkissian and none of them refer to any conduct of a sexual nature. One of the suits against him, specifically described Der Sarkissian as "non-threatening."

Der Sarkissian claims in the suit that Nuss, who "actively recruited women to file baseless sexual harassment complaints against David Der Sarkissian in an attempt to intentionally ruin his career and drive him out of the West Virginia University School of Medicine", solicited all of the complaints.

On Oct. 22, 2004, Ann Justice with the Office of Social Justice completed the investigation of the allegations and filed a report with Nuss. Nuss, Justice and Der Darkissian had a meeting and Der Sarkissian was referred for psychological testing.

The suit says Nuss knew Der Sarkissian has ADHD, a symptom of which is impulsivity, but did not include that in her report.

"Immediately after the Oct. 22, 2004 meeting, Dr. Nuss told Dr. Der Sarkissian that he was found guilty of sexual harassment and placed on probation," the suit says.

At the meeting he was forced to sign a letter about the findings, with Nuss threatening to fire him if he did not comply, the suit says. He was also asked to provide Nuss with a list of his friends in the residence program.

On Nov. 17, 2004, Nuss issued a memo that said Der Sarkissian was found guilty of sexual harassment and placed on four months probation. At that time the suit says he began to experience severe depression, and lost 20 pounds between late January and early February 2005.

After Der Sarkissian returned to work the suit says he started to suffer from anxiety because he "was living in fear and confusion that any of his interactions with women could be construed as sexual harassment," the suit says.

As part of being found guilty of sexual harassment he could not interact with his accusers, but they could contact him, which Der Sarkissian found to be a double standard that was both confusing and detrimental to his performance. One of his accusers invited him to a party, with him name at the top of the list, the suit says.

On Feb. 14, 2005, Nuss sent a letter not to renew Der Sarkissian's contract for 2005-06.

The suit claims Nuss solicited all of the allegations and "maliciously pushed" the accusers in an effort to drive Der Sarkissian out of the residency program.

On Feb. 16, Nuss suspended Der Sarkissian's clinical privileges. On the same day, Der Sarkissian went to Ruby Memorial Hospital Emergency Room in shock and displaying suicidal intentions. The next day, he was issued a notice of termination.

Der Sarkissian filed a Level I grievance suit, but Nuss denied all relief.

"At this meeting, Dr. Nuss was extremely hostile to Dr. Der Sarkissian," the suit says. "After he notified her that the rights he was trying to enforce were important enough for him to take the dispute to court, she attempted to intimidate him into dropping his claims by threatening to run up the costs stating, "what if is costs you $500,000?"

A Level II grievance was then filed, and all relief was again denied to Der Sarkissian. After that meeting he was told three more women were preparing sexual harassment claims against him.

On March 30, 2005, Der Sarkissian filed a Level III grievance to Dr. David Hardesty, president of West Virginia University.

A hearing was canceled pending settlement negotiations. However, they were unable to reach a solution.

The suit says Der Sarkissian attempted to move on with his life and go to other residency programs, but Nuss informed other programs of the sexual harassment.

For all the damages Der Sarkissian, through his counsel Travis Fitzwater, seeks $5 million to cover actual, emotional and punitive damages.

Monongalia Circuit Court case number 07-C-111

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