Doctor gets $7m in gender bias suit
Settlement with Beth Israel one of largest
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In a striking settlement of a high-profile case, a Harvard doctor who said she endured years of sexist treatment at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center will collect $7 million — and will have the hospital’s pain clinic named in her honor.
Employment lawyers said the hospital’s settlement with Dr. Carol Warfield, its former chief of anesthesia, appears to be one of the largest for a gender discrimination case in Massachusetts. Ilene Sunshine, a lawyer who represents defendants in bias suits, said it seems “enormous,’’ though she pointed out that it is hard to compare because settlements usually remain confidential.
The agreement — in which the hospital and other defendants did not admit doing anything wrong — closes an embarrassing stretch in the Harvard teaching hospital’s illustrious history.
Warfield, who became chief of anesthesia in 2000, said Dr. Josef Fischer, former surgery chief, discriminated against her because she is a woman, openly ignoring her in meetings and lobbying for her removal from her job. When she complained to Paul Levy, then chief executive, she alleged, both men retaliated against her and forced her out.
Warfield, 61, who still sees patients part time in the pain clinic she helped start, spoke in an interview with the Globe about the difficulties she faced as a woman climbing to the top reaches of academic medicine, and said she always felt an “obligation to keep the door open for other women.”
“I am delighted that we’ve been able to resolve this and am very, very happy to move forward,’’ she said. “I’m happy to see Beth Israel has stepped forward and re-affirmed its commitment to equal opportunity and to women.’’
Warfield sued the hospital, Fischer, Levy, and the hospital’s physician group in 2008. On Wednesday, the parties filed a notice in Suffolk Superior Court that they had resolved the case, and released a joint statement to the hospital community. A trial had been scheduled to begin this past Monday.
The statement noted that the defendants “had contested Dr. Warfield’s claims throughout the litigation,’’ but quoted general counsel Jamie Katz saying, “This case serves as a reminder that, with time and consideration, people of goodwill can learn from one another. As we look back on this case, there are lessons for the institution.’’
As part of the settlement, the hospital agreed to “reaffirm and clarify its policies and procedures’’ for employees reporting discrimination and retaliation, said Warfield’s attorney, Ellen Zucker of the Boston firm Burns & Levinson. Zucker released key details of the settlement with permission from the defendants.
The hospital also agreed to sponsor an annual lecture series on women’s health and the academic contributions of women in surgery. And Warfield will retain her endowed professorship.
Levy’s lawyer declined comment on the settlement, and Fischer’s attorney did not return a call.
Other lawyers involved in the case would not discuss how the dollar amount or other aspects of the agreement were reached. But employment attorneys said the hefty settlement could be based on several factors, including Warfield’s high earning potential as a prominent anesthesiologist.
If a plaintiff can prove her complaints went all the way to the top of an institution — in this case to Levy — that also can increase the potential settlement. Attorneys said it is also likely that Beth Israel Deaconess wanted to avoid a trial that could have publicly opened old wounds given Levy’s difficult departure from the hospital in 2011.
He stepped down amid criticism over his close personal relationship with a female employee, whom he subsequently married. He ignored warnings from other executives and board members about the pitfalls of the relationship, which became an issue in the lawsuit because Warfield and her attorneys argued that it pointed to Levy’s disregard for workplace rules.
Kevin Powers, a Boston lawyer who represents plaintiffs in bias suits, said the settlement is the largest he is aware of in Massachusetts for an individual alleging gender discrimination. And he said the other terms of the agreement send a significant message.
“I read this as a recognition by the hospital that they did something wrong and they want to rectify it,’’ he said. “That’s admirable. It’s the new administration saying, ‘Let’s move on.’ ”
The hospital “obviously wants to do something that just doesn’t compensate her but also makes a statement that has lasting public impact and bolsters good will,’’ Sunshine agreed.Continued...