Women say doctor made 'unwelcome advances'

Three women say a doctor they worked for in Conover made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward them.

The women — two Catawba County residents and an Alexander County resident — filed a federal lawsuit against their former employer this week, each seeking damages in excess of $100,000.

Deana Lingle, Leslie Treadway and Robin Perun all worked in the Conover office of Pain Relief Centers P.A. (PRC), which also operates medical clinics in Statesville and Salisbury. In the suit, the women allege that Dr. Hans Christian Hansen, the company's owner and principal, created a "sexually hostile work environment."

"Lingle and Treadway further allege PRC took adverse employment action against them because they refused Hansen's unwelcome sexual advances, and retaliated against them because they had asserted their rights under Title VII" of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the suit.

A phone message left at the PRC Conover office Friday was not immediately returned.

All three women reported the sexual advances to the company's office manager, according to the suit. They say Hansen subjected them to "sexual comments, proposals, overtures and unwanted and unwelcome physical touching" on multiple occasions. Each alleges Hansen rubbed against their breasts and asked questions about their sex lives. Two say he attempted to or did kiss them, and that he pulled at their clothing.

The suit includes information about each woman's employment history with PRC.

Lingle, a Catawba County resident, worked from October 2004 to October 2009 as a medical office assistant, primarily in the company's Conover clinic.

"Plaintiff Lingle was subjected to sexual comments, proposals, overtures and unwanted and unwelcome physical touching by Hansen on numerous occasions" during the period of 2008 to February 2009, according to the suit.

Lingle was moved to the company's Statesville office and then terminated in October 2009 on "pretextual grounds."

Perun, also a Catawba County resident, worked primarily in the company's Conover office from February 2008 to April 2009.

Treadway, an Alexander County resident, worked mostly at the Conover office from April 2006 to October 2009 as a patient services and medical records coordinator. She ended her employment in October 2009.

In addition to damages, Lingle and Treadway requested to be reinstated to their jobs at PRC "following the imposition of reasonable corrective measures to protect them."

The suit says all three women filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment. Lingle and Treadway filed discrimination charges related to their departures from the company.

The suit says the EEOC determined that the women had been subjected to harassment and that there was "reasonable cause" to believe their civil rights were violated. The suit says "conciliation efforts" failed, and the EEOC issued notices giving the women the right to sue their former employer.