A Columbia-area chiropractor has been sued by a former employee for sexual harassment, including verbal abuse, improper touching, forced sexual acts, and assault and battery.
Filed in state court in Richland County, the lawsuit accuses chiropractor Joseph Ben Barton of unlawfully firing a former employee, identified only as “Jane Doe,” in retaliation for her rejection of his repeated sexual advances.
“Barton informed Doe that his intention was to convert her into a Scientologist,” the lawsuit says. “Barton told Doe that through his practice of Scientology, he could sense emotional disturbances in people and could sense that Doe had suffered emotional trauma.”
Scientology regards itself as a religion. Among its core beliefs are that humans have an immortal soul that has lived former lives, including lives in other parts of the universe.
Also named as defendants are Barton’s Northeast Richland practice, Midlands Physical Medicine, and an assistant, Kevin Burnham, who worked there.
Art Aiken, a Columbia attorney who represents Barton and Midlands Physical Medical with Greenville attorney David Ball, told The State the attorneys are drawing up an answer to the lawsuit and will “deny all liability.”
“We look forward to having our day in court,” Aiken said. “Without question, there are two sides to this story. It’s going to be vigorously defended.”
Burnham could not be reached. He no longer works at the clinic, an employee said.
Attorney Eric Bland, who represents Doe, said, “Women should ... be free from sexual harassment and sexual assault, particularly in the workplace where they are simply trying to do their jobs.”
The lawsuit says “Jane Doe,” 25, “was the victim of sexual assault, trauma and continuous sexual abuse and harassment” by Barton while she worked as a receptionist at the clinic from late 2016 through the summer of 2017.
Evidence includes text messages of a sexual nature, purportedly from Barton, that Doe received on her smart phone, including one that instructs her not to wear “any underwear tomorrow,” the lawsuit says.
“Almost immediately after Doe began her employment with Midlands Physical Medicine, Barton started flirting with Doe and made sexually inappropriate comments about her appearance and her body,” the lawsuit says. “Initially, Doe was flattered by the attention ... but over time his actions became smothering and unwelcome.”
Doe stayed because she “needed her job to provide for herself and her young daughter and felt powerless to fend off Barton,” who was giving her bonus checks of up to $1,700 for sexual favors, the lawsuit says.
In September, after Doe complained to an office manager about the harassment, she was fired for using “Barton’s American Express card without permission,” the lawsuit says.
Barton and Burnham also filed a report with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department saying Doe had stolen an office iPhone. However, detectives dropped the charges after hearing Doe’s side of the story and Barton did not provide supporting evidence, the lawsuit says.
Barton was licensed as a chiropractor in South Carolina in 2001, according to state records.