Warfield joined the medical staff at Beth Israel Deaconess in 1980. Over the next 20 years, she wrote two books, one of which is a best-selling anesthesia textbook, expanded the hospital’s small pain clinic into an internationally-known program, and was promoted to full professor by Harvard Medical School — and became the first women to head an anesthesia department at a Harvard teaching hospital.
She rose through the ranks while raising three children alone; her husband died unexpectedly when their youngest child was an infant.
Soon after she was appointed to revive the anesthesia department in 2000, Fischer was appointed chief of surgery in fall 2001. A nationally known surgeon, he was considered a key player in turning around the financially struggling hospital — someone who could use his influence to attract young surgeons who would in turn bring in patients.
Surgeons and anesthesiologists normally work together closely. But Warfield said that soon after he arrived, Fischer was abusive and demeaning toward her, letting the door shut on her when she was following him into a room and replying to one of her male colleagues when she spoke to him.
Her lawsuit includes e-mails between Beth Israel Deaconess leaders, internal hospital memos, and testimony from other doctors and nurses saying that Fischer was not only uncomfortable working with Warfield but with women generally. He once told a group of Beth Israel Deaconess nurses that he preferred to hire residents, or doctors in training, who are "tall, light skinned Western-taught men," according to an e-mail from a nurse that was filed as part of the lawsuit.
When Warfield complained to Levy, who became chief executive in January 2002, he did nothing, the lawsuit contends. He accused her of "playing the victim" and indicated he viewed the situation as a problem between Warfield and Fischer. At one point, he told her she had created a "culture of whining,”the suit says. On another occasion, he told her, “Joe can’t help himself.’’
While she was on sabbatical in 2007, Warfield said in the suit, Fischer campaigned to have her fired for incompetence. Shortly before she was to return to the hospital, Levy told her by e-mail that he was demoting her as department chairwoman.
When Levy met with her colleagues the next day, he said she was too aggressive and had failed to maintain a good relationship with Fischer.
Levy asked Fischer to resign in June 2008 — after Warfield filed her lawsuit — saying his management style was no longer appropriate for the hospital. Fischer no longer performs surgery at the hospital, but he has an endowed professorship through Harvard Medical School and the hospital provides him an office.
Warfield said she will continue to see patients part-time and to do research at Harvard Medical School and serve on committees, including one on the status of women at the school. She also is working to improve medical care in Ethiopia, where operations often are performed without advanced anesthesia, she said.
Zucker said that even when plaintiffs win at trial they often find themselves pushed out of careers they love. She said the result in this case avoids that fate. “It is gratifying that we have here a resolution that celebrates the importance of the hospital’s mission and Dr. Warfield’s contributions to that work,” she said.