PORTLAND — Maine Medical Center is disputing some claims in a lawsuit filed by an employee who says the hospital retaliated against him for raising concerns about strip club outings by doctors.

Maine Med has denied allegations that residents and fellows felt pressured to attend strip club outings with doctors during an out-of-state conference.

Patrick O’Brien sued the hospital in May, claiming that he suffered retaliation because in 2009 he spoke out against a tradition of bringing sports medicine residents and fellows to a strip club for lap dances while attending conferences in Rhode Island. O’Brien said in his complaint that he believed being pressured to participate in the outings amounted to sexual harassment by creating a hostile working environment.

He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress and damage to his reputation.

O’Brien, who was administrative director of the Department of Family Medicine until 2009, said his supervisor became hostile after he complained about the strip club visits, that he was subjected to unfair treatment and was transferred to a different position in retaliation.

In its answer to O’Brien’s complaint, the hospital denied that a female resident had complained that her husband, also a resident, did not want to want to go to the strip club, but felt pressured to go. The hospital also denied O’Brien’s claim that the reason another female physician went to the conference a day late was because she didn’t want to be associated with the strip club outing.

The hospital said that O’Brien’s supervisor, Dr. Ann Skelton, did not object to him reporting the strip club visits, which O’Brien says were organized by two other doctors in leadership positions. The problem was with the way he raised the issue, during a department leadership forum, the hospital says.

Skelton told O’Brien that she expected department members to raise issues in a “supportive and respectful, rather than accusatory and hostile manner,” according to the document.

O’Brien, whose previous position was eliminated, took the newly created position of director of special projects last year. He complained that he was moved to the oldest part of the hospital, into an isolated attic office frequented by bats.

The hospital said the office is in the same building as its highest-level executives, but acknowledged “that bats have been seen in the building, which is quite old.”

Maine Med filed its answer in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. The lawsuit was initially filed in Cumberland County Superior Court and transferred to federal court.

The case schedule calls for the parties to be ready for trial in May.

John Lamb, a Maine Med spokesman, said the hospital can’t comment on pending litigation.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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