An investigator with the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners is filing a lawsuit against her employer, claiming the state agency ignored and retaliated against her after she reported a claim of sexual harassment against her supervisor.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Clark County District Court, alleges that multiple supervisors in the state Board of Medical Examiners — the state agency charged with oversight of medical professionals — had engaged in an “unwelcome, vicious, extreme, outrageous, pervasive and unrelenting campaign of sexual harassment” against a junior investigator, Lara Ward.
The suit also alleges multiple examples of alleged impropriety, including assertions that senior investigators for the medical board delayed, stalled or covered up cases to hide malpractice and incompetence, including several opioid overprescription cases.
In a statement, Ward's attorney Jennifer Foley declined to answer questions about any specific cases outlined in the suit, but said that Ward brought the suit because she believed "companies or agencies should not get away with illegal conduct in the workplace."
"Lara came forward because she feels that she was wronged, and wants to ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future," she said in an email.
Asked about the allegations, the board’s deputy executive director Jasmine Mehta referred question to a private attorney, S. Brett Sutton, who didn’t respond to emailed questions from The Nevada Independent.
Ward, hired by the board in April 2015, alleges in the suit that Don Andreas — her direct supervisor and the board’s deputy chief of Investigations — sexually harassed her in March 2016, asking her after she helped Andreas obtain information in an investigation, “Who did you have to blow to get that?”
Although Ward strongly objected to Andreas’ question and told him the comments were “inappropriate and highly unwelcome,” the suit alleges that he made a similar comment several weeks later.
Ward says shortly after complaining to Andreas about his comments, she inquired to several superiors, including board Executive Director Edward Cousineau and Chief of Investigations Pamela Castagnola about a possible promotion to a senior Investigator position.
Though Ward says she met the requirements of three years of investigatory experience, she says in the suit that she was “berated” by Castagnola for having the “temerity” to express interest in the position — which she believed was instigated by Andreas. Ward also said she received poor marks on her employee review from Castagnola over her interest in the position.
Ward says that she spent months “enduring excruciating psychological abuse, disparate treatment, and ongoing harassment” before finally reporting the sexual harassment to Cousineau and then-Deputy Executive Director Todd Rich.
She also lays out a variety of alleged “improper conduct and improprieties,” including claims that Andreas deliberately targeted physicians he held a grudge against, closing high-profile cases to hide “incompetence,” negligently advising federal law enforcement officials over opioid overdose deaths and a “significant and inexplicable” delay in the handling of opioid and overprescription cases. She also alleges that Cousineau and Castagnola worked to stall, delay or prematurely close cases to cover up malpractice or incompetence.
Ward says after reporting the issues, she went on a planned vacation, but returned to an even more charged environment. She alleges in the suit that Andreas became more hostile, and began requiring review of all of her allegation letters — a requirement unique to Ward. She also claimed that Andreas and Castagnola were inquiring into whom Ward might be dating, including obtaining and disseminating medical information related to a gynecological surgical procedure undertaken by Ward.
Ward outlined several examples of the “ongoing campaign of harassment,” and retaliatory behavior from her coworkers, including refusing to take messages on her cases, not assigning her new cases, tampering with her food, refusing to speak with her in a “civil manner,” applying “contradictory” requirements, increased scrutiny on her work and the transfer of other high-profile cases to other investigators.
She also claims that she was reprimanded after being ordered by Andreas to send a publicly available document to an attorney representing Allstate Insurance Company, saying despite her protests Andreas told her “Shut the f--k up. I know what I’m doing.”
Ward also says she was the target of a “false and unsubstantiated claim” of harassment in September 2017 by fellow investigator, Kim Friedman, and said her Board of Examiners supervisors denied her offer of an audio recording of the incident and placed her on administrative leave.
The suit alleges that Kati Payton and Friedman were promoted from administrative assistants to the positions of investigator and senior investigator, respectively, despite not having the proper qualifications to hold the position. It alleges that the two women were the only investigators without bachelor’s degrees at the board, and that both were hired because of their friendship with Andreas.