14 Students Seek Class Action Against University, New Brunswick Psychiatrist Manoj Bhargava for Sexual Assaults

July 14, 2022

A former University of New Brunswick student is ready to take the next step in her class-action suit after 14 other students contacted her lawyer with identical allegations of sexual assault.

In April 2021, Morgan Wilcox filed a suit against the university and psychiatrist Dr. Manoj Bhargava. She alleges Bhargava sexually assaulted her at appointments at the Student Health Centre in Fredericton and that UNB failed to protect her from that.

On Thursday, her lawyer officially requested the judge to certify the lawsuit as a class action.

"There is an identifiable class of persons who share a common interest," Wilcox's lawyer Erika Hachey wrote in an affidavit supporting the application.

"The law firms ... have been contacted by 14 different class members who have expressed a desire to form part of the putative class action."

None of the allegations against UNB or Bhargava have been tested in court.

Hachey wrote each of the 14 people who said they were students at UNB when they had psychiatric treatment from Bhargava. All, including Wilcox, allege Bhargava touched their breasts and chest while checking their heart rate or blood pressure.

In an affidavit, Wilcox alleges Bhargava prescribed her medication that he said has dangerous side-effects. She said he would take five to 10 minutes to check her heart rate, and the examination was never done by a nurse as with other medical appointments.

Bhargava says he followed 'good and approved medical practice.' (Facebook)

After the first few appointments, he began asking her to wear looser clothing and no brassiere, she wrote, so he could check her heart rate. She also alleges he would sometimes ask her to lie down on the medical bed while he checked her heart rate.

In a statement of defence filed this year, Bhargava denied all allegations of sexual assault. He said he followed "good and approved medical practice" when he checked Wilcox's heart rate and blood pressure. He also said he was not an employee of UNB but rather "an independent contractor."

Bhargava said he signed a contract with UNB in 2011 and UNB terminated it in November 2020.

The termination and lawsuit came after Bhargava's licence was suspended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. As of April of last year, the college had received 18 complaints, most but not all were from students.

Second lawsuit in Moncton

The motion for certification is scheduled to be heard in Fredericton on Dec. 13, 14 and 15.

When the case is heard in court, Hachey said, six victims will be going on the record with their experience.

One of them is Ashley Brzezicki, who has filed her own lawsuit against UNB and Bharghava in Moncton.

In that suit, she alleged Bhargava prescribed her medication which he said would affect her blood pressure. She alleged he asked her to wear loose clothing or remove articles of clothing so he could check her blood pressure "oftentimes by non-consensual sexual contact."

Psychiatrist denies all allegations

The lawsuit alleges class members have suffered emotional and psychological harm, development or exacerbation of mental illness and feelings of humiliation and degradation that led to addiction and substance abuse.

Bhargava denied any allegations that the class members suffered any injury because of his care.

"Any of the alleged loss, injury or damages, which are not admitted but denied, were or stem from pre-existing mental health issues, mental or emotional impairment and/or addiction or substance abuse issues," his statement of defence said.

Fredericton Police Force spokesperson Heather Webb said police "do not have an active investigation regarding this individual."

Fredericton psychiatrist suspended by College of Physicians and Surgeons

The certification application also includes an application for Wilcox to become the class representative. This means if the case is certified, she would be cross-examined, briefed on developments and would be responsible for deciding what to do about any settlement offers.

In her affidavit she swore to interact with other class members, get their input and "act as a filter for information" for the lawyers.

"I accept the responsibilities," she wrote in the affidavit filed Thursday.

Source: Hadeel Ibrahim, “14 people come forward in lawsuit against UNB, psychiatrist accused of sexual assault,” CBC News, July 7, 2022, URL: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/university-of-new-brunswick-manoj-bhargava-class-action-lawsuit-1.6513513


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