Facing sexual harassment claims, a prominent Charlotte eye doctor surrenders license

Facing sexual harassment claims, a prominent Charlotte eye doctor surrenders license
Charlotte eye doctor, Jonathan Christenbury, surrendered his medical license Wednesday amid accusations he sexually harassed employees at his eye care center. (Credit: Observer Archives)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (LaVendrick Smith | The Charlotte Observer) - Jonathan Christenbury, a prominent Charlotte eye doctor, surrendered his medical license Wednesday amid accusations that he sexually harassed former employees at his south Charlotte clinic.

Christenbury's voluntary relinquishment of his license to the North Carolina Medical Board is due to a "pending or anticipation" of a board investigation, a board spokeswoman told the Observer Thursday.

In July, two former employees at Christenbury's clinic filed lawsuits against him, alleging he sexually harassed them. They claim in their lawsuits that Christenbury maintained a sexually hostile workplace environment at Christenbury Eye Center.

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One of Christenbury's accusers alleges in her lawsuit Christenbury once offered her $5,000 for sex and stalked her. The former employee claims Christenbury followed her and a group of friends on a trip to Miami, and that he once pulled up her skirt and "grabbed her buttocks."

Another accuser alleges the doctor also touched her inappropriately, and would often hug her while pressing his genitals against her. She alleges he licked her neck on one occasion. The two women sued Christenbury for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, in addition to other claims.

An attorney for Christenbury couldn't be reached for comment.

Christenbury was licensed in North Carolina in 1982. The board had originally scheduled a December hearing to look into his actions. In a letter to Christenbury, the board said the alleged conduct was grounds for the suspension or revocation of his license. The letter also cited an additional victim of harassment at the clinic.

"It took a lot of bravery on (the accusers') part to bring forth their allegations," said Meg Maloney, an attorney representing Christenbury's accusers. "One of their motivations was to protect other women. I'm really proud of all of them for being willing to do that."

In the wake of recent national scandals, Maloney said it's "about time" there is a focus on sexual harassment.

"The harm to the women is really, really significant," she said. "When someone has someone's penis pressed against their leg in the workplace, there's damage done to the woman."

The lawsuits and the board's letter accuse Christenbury of maintaining a sexually hostile work environment, often hiring and promoting young women he thought were attractive.

Christenbury's accusers claim he'd retaliate against employees who refused his advances. They allege he'd refuse to pay employees on time or at all if they rejected him. They also claim he'd make false accusations about women who refused his advances.

Christenbury rose to prominence because of his expertise in LASIK eye surgery. In the early 1990s, he was the first doctor to perform the surgery in the Carolinas.

In 2011, he settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed he stalked, sexually exploited, intimidated and threatened her.