Two providers say their employer failed to take action against a doctor despite multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Sarah Denham, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and Alexis Phillips, a nurse practitioner, both work at Kozmic Family Practices clinic of the Capital Internal Medicine Association (CIMA) in Lansing, Michigan and have expressed concerns over Dr. Joe Kozlowski’s behavior. They now plan to sue the clinic for turning a blind eye.
Phillips said Kozlowski, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, would often talk about sex while on the job. He would grab his genitals, make references to his erection, and describe intimate details about his sex life with his wife.
“He would purposely be in the gray area,” Phillips said. “Like, ‘oh you’ve got something on your shirt.’ So you look down and meanwhile he can graze your breast. … That’s how he would touch people but get away with it.”
Dr. Kozlowski did not respond to a request for comment.
CIMA responded to the claims in a written statement.
“At Capital Internal Medicine Associates (CIMA), our primary focus is keeping our staff and patients safe and ensuring that our practice is a place of health and healing,” it said. “We are confident that CIMA management took the necessary and appropriate steps to create and maintain a safe and compliant workplace. We look forward to defending ourselves in the appropriate venue against these accusations. Going forward, we’ll continue to ensure access to quality healthcare for the thousands of patients our professionals see annually around Lansing.”
Records show Kozlowski retired at the end of March. Denham and Phillips said he only saw patients via telehealth during the last few weeks of his career.
The change came right after their attorney sent a letter to the clinic stating their intent to sue over the mishandled claims.
Denham said she first noticed Kozlowski’s unprofessional behavior as a third-year medical student back in 2014, but she didn’t say anything at the time because she had only worked at the clinic for a month. She started full-time in 2018 and has been there ever since.
She started making complaints about the doctor to Human Resources and then-CEO Michele Morlock in 2019, but she decided to stay because she hoped things would get better.
Denham added that Kozlowski would get overly aggressive or upset whenever management would talk to him about his behavior, but it didn’t change a thing.
“They were just protecting him this whole time,” Phillips said. “No one was protecting us.”
His behavior continued even after a new CEO and head of Human Resources took over.
Phillips went through a similar experience as a nurse practitioner. Kozlowski was her instructor while she was in school. According to Phillips, when her nursing supervisor asked Kozlowski how she was doing in November 2020, Kozlowski responded, “Well she won’t let me have sex with her.”
Denham overheard Phillips discussing the comment with Kozlowski. Phillips told the doctor she was “viscerally repulsed” by his comment. Kozlowski then said, “I can’t believe I said that. I’m sorry.”
Denham is gay and married to a woman and says she has always felt that Kozlowski bullied her because of it. She said he would regularly call her a “man’s man” or make jokes about her, such as, “She’s a tit man too.”
“If (Denham) would come in late, he’d say ‘oh well she must have been (expletive) (her wife) last night,” Phillips said.
On another occasion, Phillips said Kozlowski grabbed her belt loop right after her divorce and said, “You’ve lost your ass. What are you gonna do now that you’re back on the meat market?”
During a lunch with a pharmaceutical representative, Denham was discussing whether the drug would be covered by insurance when Kozlowski said, “I wish my insurance would pay for a prostitute.”
Neither Denham nor Phillips could attest to whether Kozlowski exhibited similar behavior to his patients, but Phillips said some of his patients transferred over to her after Kozlowski made several comments that made them uncomfortable.
Both women also claim that CIMA did nothing to stop his behavior even when he acted unprofessionally right in front of them.
Phillips said Kozlowski once asked her to sit for an interview with a new physician’s assistant candidate right in front of one of the CIMA owners and the head of HR.
“‘I want you to be there for the interview. He’s probably got a big (penis). He can be your new boyfriend,'” Kozlowski said, according to Phillips. “Then he looks at (the CIMA owner) and he’s like, ‘Why don’t you buy her dinner? She never eats, she’s so skinny. She’s withering away.”
An HR representative contacted Phillips after the incident and told her that they would speak to Kozlowski about his behavior. Phillips was also told that the doctor would have to undergo sexual harassment training and sign a promise committing to follow what he’d learned. But Phillips said the doctor had already completed the training and that nothing had changed.
Denham and Phillips say their complaints were largely ignored. At one point, management told them, “What do you guys want from us?”
“I’ve been waiting so long for somebody to do the right thing,” Denham said. “I’m not saying this is one comment. I’m focusing on a pattern of behavior. … How many times are we going to allow this behavior?”
“They haven’t done anything,” Phillips said. “They think it’s just OK. I want them to learn that this isn’t okay. That you can’t just put money over everything.”
Now they are taking CIMA to court.
Phillips wants other providers to speak up if their mentor or supervisor makes unprofessional comments or tries to have sex with them.
“It’s not going to change when you start working there and he respects you,” Phillips said. “He’s never gonna respect you because that’s who he is.”