Jennifer Robinson

Macomb Daily
Judge rejects ex-VA psychiatrist’s attempt to dismiss her from ex-patient’s lawsuit over sexual relationship
By Jameson Cook
February 7, 2023

A former U.S. Veterans Administration psychiatrist accused of a sexual relationship with a decorated ex-Marine patient lost an effort to be removed from his civil case against her and the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Gerschwin Drain ruled late last month that Dr. Jennifer Robinson should remain as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Trey Cholewa of Macomb County, who alleges Robinson initiated sexual activities with him in 2017 while he was a patient at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit. Cholewa says there were 10 to 20 encounters over five months.

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Robinson’s removal would have left the federal government as the sole defendant on the basis she was “acting within the scope of her employment” when she engaged in the relationship.

Ironically, in an apparent legal strategy, Cholewa argued in support of Robinson’s attempt to remove herself from the case and make the federal government the lone defendant.

“Robinson’s employment at the VA and her role as Plaintiff’s psychiatrist ‘provided (her) with the ways and means to enable her to commit’ the alleged sexual misconduct,” they argued, according to Drain.

They alleged multiple coworkers of Robinson knew or should have known about their relationship “because they would comment on him visiting without an appointment and noted that he received ‘special treatment.’”

John D. Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterVA PHOTO
John D. Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs Medical CenterVA PHOTO
Robinson and Cholewa also contended “Robinson mishandled the psychological phenomenon of transference and therefore grossly mismanaged her therapeutic relationship with Plaintiff – a therapeutic relationship undertaken in furtherance of her employer’s interests.”

But Drain wrote in his 19-page opinion that existing, contemporary federal and state case law favor maintaining Robinson as a defendant.

“Court notes that accepting the mismanagement of transference as support for finding that romantic or sexual misconduct is within the scope of a mental health professional’s employment seems to be out of favor,” Drain says. “The Court acknowledges that the cases on which Plaintiff and Defendant Robinson rely are from the 1980s or 1990s. Nor was the Court able to find more recent decisions. As such, it appears that the current majority rule is that a mental health professional who engages in sexual misconduct with her patient is not acting within the scope of her employment even if she is mismanaging the psychological phenomenon of transference.”

“Transference is a phenomenon that occurs when people redirect emotions or feelings about one person to an entirely separate individual,” according to Healthline Media’s website, healthline.com.

In addition to federal courts, “It is likely that Michigan courts would similarly find that Robinson’s ‘actions were accomplished solely in furtherance of h(er) own interests’ and that the United States did not benefit in any way from her alleged sexual misconduct.”

He calls Robinson’s claim that her colleagues knew or should have known about sexual encounters as “speculative.”

Robinson’s supervisor testified in a deposition she conducted an investigation and that none of Robinson’s coworkers knew about the alleged behavior.

Cholewa served five deployments in the Middle East, three of which put him in active combat. A June 2013 article in 1stmardiv.marines.mil/ highlighted Cholewa and three other Marines receiving medals for their actions in Afghanistan as members of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Cholewa was medically discharged in 2015 with a 100% disability rating for physical and mental trauma, and returned home to his family.

He began treatment with Robinson in October 2015. He says her sexually provocative remarks escalated to action by March 2017. The encounters went until August 2017, and Cholewa stopped treatment with her in June 2018. He told two other psychologists about the encounters.

Both Cholewa and Robinson were married at the time. He filed the lawsuit in 2019.