Hospital residency programs can be sued under Title IX if they fail to protect residents from gender discrimination, a federal appeals court ruled this week.
In a unanimous decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Title IX applies to medical residents, reversing a lower court decision that the residency programs aren't educational programs through "schooling."
Instead, the three-judge panel said Title IX applies to institutions that broadly offer education even if that isn't their sole purpose.
This case will have “reverberating effects” across the healthcare industry, said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois.
Sex discrimination is likely not on the radar of community hospitals that offer residency programs because they don't think it applies to them, Wilson said. “This is going to be felt throughout the industry,” she said.
In the case at hand, a former resident sued Mercy Catholic Medical Center in Philadelphia in 2015 under Title IX, claiming she was forced out of the program for denying unwanted sexual advances from a superior.
Mercy Catholic argued it had no obligation to abide by Title IX provisions because it's not an educational institution even though it receives federal funding for its residency program. The hospital claimed a residency program could not be considered an educational program because residents receive compensation and don't pay tuition.
The 3rd Circuit disagreed with Mercy's interpretation, saying medical residency programs do indeed provide education. Residency programs are often affiliated with a university and result in further certification for physicians, so the programs are educational, according to the judges.
Mercy Catholic is affiliated with Drexel University's College of Medicine.
“It's plausible Mercy's operation of a residency program affiliated with Drexel Medicine makes its mission, at least in part, educational under Title IX,” said Judge D. Michael Fisher, who wrote the 35-page opinion on behalf of the panel.
The U.S Justice Department backs the plaintiff's argument that Title IX applies to medical residency programs, filing an amicus brief in the case in June.
A spokeswoman for Mercy Health System, the parent of Mercy Catholic Medical Center, declined to comment on the ruling.
About 700 hospitals operate residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, training more than 120,000 residents annually. It costs a hospital about $152,000 a year to train a single resident. Most of that cost is paid for through government funds.