Massachusetts Discrimination Lawsuit Results in $7M Victory

Allegations of gender discrimination by a Massachusetts doctor against an area hospital have resulted in one of the largest settlements of its kind, with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center agreeing to pay $7 million.
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Additionally, our Boston employment lawyers understand the hospital will be naming the organization’s pain clinic in her honor. Plus, the hospital has agreed to sponsor a yearly lecture series focusing on female health and also women’s academic contributions to the field of surgery.

The settlement with the former chair of anesthesia at the Harvard teaching hospital is believed to be among the highest for gender discrimination, though it’s difficult to say exactly because in most of these cases, the amounts and terms are confidential.

In this settlement, as in many others, the hospital and other defendants admit to no wrongdoing. That’s usually more of a formality. They know they’ve done wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t be willing to pay so much.

The plaintiff had held her position as chief of the division since 2000. Since that time, she alleged that the former surgery chief not only discriminated against her because of her gender, but that he did so quite openly.

For example, he reportedly made it a point to blatantly ignore her during meetings. He also allegedly was vocal in his lobbying to have her removed from her position.

There were times, she said, when he would allow the door to close behind him – literally in her face – if she was following behind him. When she spoke directly to him, he would respond by turning to a male employee to reply.

Internal memos and e-mails revealed that the chief surgeon wasn’t just uncomfortable working with the plaintiff, but with all women in general. One particularly damning correspondence penned by the chief surgeon read that he preferred to hire doctors in training who are tall, light-skinned males who are taught in Western schools.

The plaintiff complained to the hospital’s chief executive.

But that seemed to only make things worse. She said both men then became retaliatory toward her.

The executive reportedly said she was playing the victim and said it was something for the two of them to work out. On one occasion, he told her that the chief surgeon was unable to help himself with regard to his behavior.

When she went on sabbatical, the year before filing the lawsuit, the chief surgeon went on a crusade to oust her. Not long before she returned, the executive wrote to tell her she was being demoted. He said her management style was no longer appropriate, and she had failed to maintain a good relationship with the chief surgeon.

The 61-year-old plaintiff, who helped found the hospital’s pain clinic and continues to see patients there, said that the glass ceiling for women in top positions within academic medicine remains hard to breach.

She said she filed the lawsuit not because she was in need of the settlement funds, but because she felt an inherent obligation to ensure the doors she had forced opened stay open, and that those that were slammed in her face would not remain so for those who followed.

It’s been a trying journey. The lawsuit was first filed back in 2008. The settlement agreement was reached and announced just days before the case was set to go to trial – one that would have no doubt been closely watched and heavily covered by media. Undoubtedly, that was attention the hospital wasn’t trying to attract.

Another part of the reason the settlement may have been so large was that the plaintiff, as a renowned anesthesiologist in her field, had a rather high earning potential.

With the settlement, the hospital was able to “reaffirm and clarify” its stance on discrimination, reporting and retaliation, and the plaintiff was able to maintain her endowed professorship.

The hospital’s former chief executive had previously resigned after he came under fire for a personal relationship he developed with a female subordinate, despite ample warnings from board members and other executives about the negative example it set. He later ended up marrying that employee.

The relationship was a key point in the gender discrimination suit, as it was used to illustrate the executive’s flagrant disregard of appropriate workplace boundaries and rules.

The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:
Doctor gets $7m in gender bias suit, Feb. 7, 2013, By Liz Kowalczyk, The Boston Globe
More Blog Entries:
$5M Boston Gender Discrimination Suit Filed Following Adoption Leave, April 10, 2013, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog

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