Autumn Davis spent her adult life working to become a nurse anesthetist. First, she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Clemson University in 2006. Then she spent almost a decade in the profession, with an emphasis on anesthesia. Finally, in 2015, she enrolled in the doctor of nursing practice program at UNC-Greensboro, three years of intense studies that, she hoped, would culminate in her six-figure dream job.
Instead, she says, she landed in a nightmare.
In state and federal lawsuits filed this summer, Davis alleges that she was sexually harassed by a supervisor while performing clinical work as part of UNCG’s program. When she complained, she says, administrators subjected her to a hostile, retaliatory environment that “victimized and damaged her,” including mocking her physical disability. Ultimately, the lawsuits allege, she was drummed out of the program a month before graduation—and to facilitate her removal, the complaints suggest, administrators may have falsified or destroyed medical records.
“There are apparent discrepancies,” says Nicholas J. Sanservino, her attorney. Though he declined to discuss specifics, he says he has “overwhelming evidence” that records were altered. (Davis declined to comment for this story.)
Davis’s federal lawsuit, filed on July 2 in the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina, names as defendants UNCG, the UNC Board of Governors, and the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia, a nonprofit associated with UNCG. It alleges that the nursing program has a “history of turning a blind eye towards sexual harassment and engaging in unlawful retaliation” toward female students who complain.
In a statement, UNCG did not directly address the allegations in the lawsuit: “We continue to be confident in the facts of this case, the strength of our nationally ranked nursing program and its faculty, and our ability to reach a successful conclusion in court.”
Davis’s state lawsuit, filed in Guilford County on August 6, targets two UNCG officials: Linda Stone, an assistant program administrator at the RSNA and the current president of the N.C. Association of Nurse Anesthetists; and Nancy Shedlick, who runs UNCG’s post-graduate nursing program. Davis accuses Stone and Shedlick of operating the program “under an iron fist designed to create fear and intimidation amongst students” and “[retaliating] against students who bring unwanted issues to their attention.” It also alleges that they “individually fostered a personal, unjustified animus” toward Davis.
Stone and Shedlick did not respond to the INDY’s requests for comment, and UNCG’s statement did not respond to the allegations against them.
According to court documents, UNCG assigned Davis to several hospitals for clinical work, including WakeMed Raleigh, where in July 2016 she was supervised by a certified registered nurse anesthetist named Jimmy Kimball Jr., a UNCG alumnus and past president of the N.C. Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas J. Sanservino
While supervising her, the federal complaint says, Kimball sexually harassed Davis, making lewd jokes, asking her out on dates even after she asked him to stop, asking her to strip for him, and pressing “his erect penis against Ms. Davis’s body while she was working.”
Kimball, who is named in the state but not the federal complaint—and is not a defendant in either—did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment. His Facebook page lists his present employer as Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount.
According to her lawsuits, Kimball’s behavior “mortified” Davis “to the point of being diagnosed with anxiety and depression.” She reported him to Shedlick and Stone, but instead of being sympathetic, the complaints allege, Stone asked Davis, “Are you sure you want to make this type of complaint?” Shedlick and Stone tried to convince Davis that Kimball’s behavior was “accidental” and pressured her to keep it to herself, the lawsuits say.
This wasn’t the only time something like this had happened, the federal lawsuit claims: “Before July 2016, multiple female students in the [program] lodged sexual harassment and/or related complaints while training as Registered Nurses at local North Carolina hospitals; some or all of these complaints were made against [Kimball]. … Simply put, female students in the [program] have a history of suffering sexual harassment.”
Sanservino declined to provide details about these other allegations of sexual harassment.
Davis pressed ahead with her complaint, the lawsuits say, but UNCG didn’t investigate her claims. Instead, in October, she was assigned to work under Kimball again. Davis emailed Stone, according to court documents, asking her to place restrictions on her contact with Kimball: “Every encounter with [Kimball] has escalated,” she wrote, “and the last encounter left me feeling sexually exploited for weeks.”
Stone and Shedlick replied by reprimanding Davis for going “outside the chain of command” and addressing the matter with WakeMed’s chief CRNA, the federal lawsuit says. Stone told Davis that she had to understand that “you may work with [Kimball] when assigned to Wake as he works the call schedule.”
Stone and Shedlick also “intentionally took steps” to undermine the accommodations the school was supposed to provide Davis, who has ADHD, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the lawsuits say. They “repeatedly interrupted” her during tests, “frequently mocked” her disability in front of other students, and “yelled” at her before exams. They also “threatened to have Ms. Davis dismissed from the [program] if she complained about any of their conduct towards her,” the lawsuits allege.
Davis nonetheless lodged a complaint with the UNCG Office of Accessibility and Resources Services. (The INDY was unable to obtain a copy of the complaint by press time.) After that, the situation degenerated “exponentially,” the lawsuits say.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, the federal lawsuit alleges, Stone, Shedlick, and other UNCG officials “engaged in a near-daily campaign to inflict maximum harm upon Ms. Davis.” They did this, Davis alleges, by forcing her to work under Kimball; by “fabricating documents to make it appear as though Ms. Davis was not completing her clinical work correctly”; by “falsely [accusing]” her of insubordination; and by telling other students that they were actively trying to kick her out of the program.
In June 2018—one month from graduation—Davis was booted from the program. According to the lawsuits, she was dismissed over “unsafe nursing practices,” though the complaints say this reason was “knowingly false.”
Joseph Finarelli, a special deputy attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice who is representing UNCG and the Board of Governors, has not yet filed a response to Davis’s federal complaint. It’s unclear from court records what the alleged unsafe nursing practices were.
Davis appealed to UNCG. By this point, the federal lawsuit says, Davis had already accepted a $150,000-plus-a-year position, set to start in November, that was contingent on her earning her degree. In October—following a hearing that Davis argues violated her due-process rights by denying her the right the legal representation, denying her requests to call or question witnesses, and allowing UNCG to present evidence not disclosed to Davis before the hearing and records not in Davis’s student file—the university’s appeals board ordered her reinstatement in January 2019.
The downside: Davis missed out on the job. She had to re-enroll for the spring semester.
A month into the spring semester, however, UNCG kicked her out again—once again charging her with unsafe nursing practices, the lawsuits say. And again, UNCG “altered, falsified, and/or dismissed records (including medical records),” Davis alleges.
For the second time, Davis appealed—and like the first time, she says, she was denied due process. In late May, UNCG rejected her appeal.
This time, Davis sued, seeking reinstatement as well as damages.
Sanservino says Davis doesn’t expect to be readmitted. He says UNCG has made it clear that won’t happen without a court order.
Autumn Davis has sued two supervisors at the University of North Carolina Greensboro nursing school in state court. Davis also is suing the school, the UNC Board of Governors and the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia in federal court. The state attorney general’s office says in a response in federal court Davis can’t prove a connection between her filing a harassment claim while enrolled in school and her dismissal. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is supporting Davis’ case financially.
Sources: Thomasi McDonald (Indy Week) And Associated Press (ABC News)
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