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Sanford, UND deny female doctor's allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation

Dr. Fiona Axelsson alleged continued harassment by her male residency supervisor and said she suffered retaliation for reporting the conduct — allegations that Sanford Health and the University of North Dakota have denied.

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Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.
Forum file photo
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FARGO — Sanford Health and the University of North Dakota filed legal responses denying a female medical resident’s allegations that she was subjected to sexual harassment by the male physician who supervised the residency program.

The allegations were made in a lawsuit filed April 6 in U.S. District Court in Fargo by Dr. Fiona Axelsson, who was in the University of North Dakota’s family medicine residency program supervised by Dr. Jason Myrmoe, a Sanford physician.

Axelsson, who started in the residency program in 2019, claimed in her lawsuit that problems with Myrmoe started in 2020.

The harassing behavior started with Myrmoe making comments such as “you’re too emotional” and “get some sleep” and later involved openly “leering” at Axelsson, sometimes in the presence of others, her lawsuit said.

In its answer to the suit, filed Monday, June 6, Sanford made general and specific denials to Axelsson’s allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

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Although Myrmoe acknowledged telling Axelsson to “tread carefully” about her claim that he didn’t care about the students in the residency program, Sanford denied that he engaged in any improper conduct, including “leering” at Axelsson.

Specifically, Sanford denied that Axelsson “continued experiencing harassing conduct from Dr. Myrmoe as alleged.”

Axelsson’s lawsuit alleged that Dr. Lara Lunde, who replaced Myrmoe as director of the family medicine residency program at Sanford, told an investigator that Myrmoe gave her an “unsolicited back massage in the presence of another medical resident and two nurses."

In response, Sanford denied Axelsson’s allegation, but gave no specifics.

Sanford acknowledged that Axelsson engaged in conversations with Lunde, acknowledged that Axelsson complained to human resources regarding her interactions with Myrmoe and that it investigated the matter, but denied that Axelsson was subjected to harassment.

Also, Sanford acknowledged that it met with Axelsson to discuss the outcome of the investigation, “including matters raised by others,” but denied that it informed her that Myrmoe “sexually harassed her.”

Myrmoe resigned as supervisor of the residency program and returned to full-time practice, Sanford acknowledged, but denied any failure to investigate Axelsson’s harassment allegations in a timely manner. Sanford also denied retaliating against Axelsson, and said she was not entitled to any lost income or other damages.

In its answer, also filed Monday, June 6, UND acknowledged investigating Axelsson’s allegations. UND also acknowledged that Lunde told a Sanford investigator that Axelsson claimed Myrmoe “touched her shoulders in a public area while at work,” but denied any allegations of harassment or discrimination.

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“UND denies the allegations of retaliatory action and conspiracy,” UND said in answering Axelsson’s lawsuit.

Axelsson, whose residency contract wasn’t renewed, claims she was retaliated against for her complaints of sexual harassment and has had mental health struggles as a result, becoming severely depressed and suicidal. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder, her lawsuit said.

UND denied Axelsson’s allegation of breach of contract.

No trial date has been set in the case.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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