Globe: Whopping $7M Settlement In Gender Bias Suit Against Hospital, Surgery Chief

Part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

The Boston Globe’s Liz Kowalczyk reports here:

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.

Readers, is this an anomaly or does it reflect significant cultural change? Surgeons have such a reputation as the arrogant cowboys of any hospital staff; is that truly changing? Does this suit send the message that it must? Read the full Globe story here.

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  • ladymd

    Linda, thank you for the opportunity to clarify my views. Certainly the advancement of women in medicine is critical, and my generation and the one before me were in the vanguard of that effort, and are proud of it. The situation is already vastly improved and will soon disappear by sheer numbers, since over 50% of medical students are now women. Therefore this particular case is not only a poor example – I doubt it was about ‘sex discrimination’ rather than an egregious lack of respect for anyone (see medical student’s comment above) – but also is already an anachronism and indeed, far from ‘sending a message’, will almost certainly do great damage to the improving professional relationship between male and female physicians in Boston for a very long time. Female doctors will now be treated differently than men out of fear, although what we always wanted was to be treated the same. And no matter what happened, it was not worth 7 MILLION dollars compared to a medical error, particularly since she apparently is still on the faculty.
    In short, Dr. Warfield (and her lawyer) has reaped an enormous individual windfall, at the expense of her fellow doctors and of patients at BIDMC.

  • ladymd

    Arrogant cowboy doctors are not limited to surgeons, but the recent development of disruptive physician policies, now mandated by the Joint Commission, has done much to restrain behavior and at least give staff a mechanism to call out the behavior.

    But, as an older female physician who worked with surgeons before ‘disruptive physician’ policies existed, I am choking on this one. Where is the harm? People don’t get that much money for being maimed by medical error. Dr. Warfield does women physicians no favors by taking the classic female tack of complaining to a ‘daddy’; it only enhances the men’s attitude that we cannot take care of ourselves. And, I never saw a CEO who was of any help in inter-physician disputes; only the head of the medical staff could and should have intervened. All in all, Dr. Warfield, thanks for nothing. We women docs are better off without your ‘help’.

    • Linda

      As an employment lawyer, I would like to respond. The settlement of this case sends a message not only to hospitals but to any corporate entities that sex discrimination will be treated seriously and can lead to huge damages. Filing suit for illegal behavior that in the past kept women from advancing in their careers, humiliated them and caused economic harm as well as emotional distress, is not “complaining to daddy.” It is helping to enforce the laws of our Commonweath, which uphold the public policy against discrimination. A shame that as a physician you do not see the broader public good at stake in these cases. Fifty years ago, how many women were admitted to medical school?

      • Sandy

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Its about time us women stop attacking each other.

  • Reasonable?

    I was a medical student under the reign of Fischer.
    the rumor was the BI needed Fischer to rebuild the reputation of its surgery department.
    So for a long time his behavior was tolerated despite excesses.

    As a student I saw him publicly humiliate fellows and faculty at Grand Rounds.
    Nurse and residents put special protocols in place to avoid his wrath.
    He was a felic of the that generation of doctors that you read about in books like The House of God..

    I hope that that era is over now.
    I have very little doubt that the allegations of Dr Warfield are true.