HMS Professor Files Gender Bias Lawsuit

A Harvard Medical School professor filed a lawsuit Friday charging the president and the chief of surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—one of Harvard’s main affiliated hospitals—with gender discrimination, saying she endured years of sexist treatment which culminated with her demotion.

Carol A. Warfield is seeking recovery for the “loss of her career, her income, her reputation, and all of the consequential damages that flow from these injuries,” according to the complaint filed at the Suffolk County Courthouse.

Warfield, a leading physician known for her work in pain medicine, rose from the ranks of a resident and a fellow in the 1970s to chair of the hospital’s anesthesia department in 2000.

A year later, Josef E. Fischer became the new head of the surgery department at Beth Israel.

The lawsuit alleges that, prior to his appointment, Fischer already had a reputation for being “‘old style,’ with a demonstrated tendency to be abusive to­—and unable to work with—professional women.” The suit alleges that Fischer once even slapped a female nurse.

During his time at Beth Israel, the suit alleges that Fischer’s habit of demeaning female co-workers continued. In the complaint, Warfield says that Fischer treated her and her female staff with disrespect, citing an instance where Fischer allegedly screamed at a female anesthesiologist in public. Paul F. Levy, the president of Beth Israel, is also a defendant in the suit, which accuses him of repeatedly failing to appropriately address the gender discrimination issues that Warfield raised.

“Mr. Levy and the administration chose to stereotype Dr. Warfield by characterizing her as a ‘whiner’ and lacking in leadership rather than dealing with the hostile environment that was being created by Dr. Fischer,” Laura R. Studen, one of Warfield’s lawyers, said in an interview.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that this pattern of discriminatory conduct had already been brought to light in 2005, when a “group of distinguished leaders of similar departments” investigated the interpersonal problems between Fischer and Warfield—among other issues—and concluded that the problems were primarily Fischer’s fault.

Despite the fact that the findings were shared with Levy, former Medical School Dean Joseph B. Martin, and Dean for Clinical Programs Raphael Dolin ’63, the suit alleges that the misconduct continued, culminating in Warfield’s dismissal as chair of the anesthesia department in July 2007.

According to Studen, Warfield is still currently employed at Beth Israel but is in “somewhat of a limbo” as to what her role at the hospital will be come August, when her contract expires.

“I find it disappointing that an institution like Beth Israel did not respond more appropriately,” Studen said, “but we do not yet live in a world—even a senior-level professional world—in which gender discrimination does not take place.”

Warfield could be reached for comment. Representatives for Fischer, Beth Israel, and the Medical School each declined to comment, as the case is currently in litigation.

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu