Court Upholds Sex Bias Ruling

A panel of three appeals court judges upheld a 2009 ruling last month brought against Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, for sex discrimination.

The ruling affrims an award of $1.6 million to Sagun Tuli, who at the time of her employment, was Harvard’s only female spinal neurosurgeon. The 2009 ruling found that Tuli was a victim of gender bias from her supervisor Arthur L. Day, then chair of spinal neurosurgery at the Brigham.

“My hope is that [this suit] will create change,” Tuli told the Crimson in 2009 after the original decision had been handed down. “I risked my career and my reputation.”

Tuli told the Crimson then that she did not accept a prior settlement offer from the hospital because “it will never stop if they just keep paying people off.” She also added that her claims of discrimination had been ignored by people in positions of authority at the Brigham.

Tuli could not be reached for comment for this article.

The decision from the first circuit court of appeals, released Aug. 29, upheld the original federal jury’s ruling that the Brigham give Tuli $1 million because it allowed a hostile work environment to persist and $600,000 in compensatory damages for retaliation after she raised her concerns. The decision also required Day to pay Tuli $20,000 for “economic harm.”

Tuli was also awarded “nominal sums” of $1 apiece on two other claims. She also lost two of her claims, one of which asserted she was paid less than the other doctors in the spinal neurosurgery department due to her gender.

The appeals decision says that “the evidence was ample” that a hostile work environment existed at the Brigham.

According to Tuli, Day and another doctor, Dong H. Kim, were primarily responsible for the hostile environment.

The decision cites several alleged incidents of sexism, including an episode at a graduation dinner in which Day allegedly asked Tuli to “get up on the table to dance so you could show them [guests] how to behave.” In another incident, Tuli described arriving at a co-workers’ bachelorette party to see “a blow up doll with a picture of her face attached to it.”

Among the list of alleged hostile and discriminatory occurrences are sexual advances made by Kim and several incidents in which Day implicitly or explicitly stated that Tuli’s gender compromised her ability to do her job. The decision dates these incidents from 2004 through 2007.

From 2005 through 2007, Tuli brought her concerns about hostile behavior to Anthony D. Whittemore, the Brigham’s chief medical officer. According to the appeals decision, Whittemore discouraged Tuli from filing a formal complaint against Day for discrimination since “Tuli’s fear of retaliation was reasonable and known to him.”

In October 2007, Day, who sat on the hospital’s credentials committee, recommended that Tuli be forced to undergo anger management training. The committee decided to require Tuli obtain an outside psychiatric evaluation within four months as a condition to reappointing her to her position. Tuli filed the original lawsuit in December 2007, and was granted a preliminary injunction that allowed her to keep her job without obtaining a psychiatric evaluation during the trial.

According to a March 28, 2008 Boston Globe article, a total of four women at the Brigham accused Day of sexual discrimination.

Since the case was filed, Day, Kim, and Tuli have all left the Brigham. Both Day and Kim hold faculty positions at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston in the neurosurgery department.

Tuli now works at The Center for Advanced Brain and Spine Surgery in Natick.

—Staff writer Benjamin M. Scuderi can be reached at bscuderi@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: SEPT. 21, 2011

The Sept. 20 article "Court Upholds Sex Bias Ruling" misspelled Sagun Tulli's first name. It is Sagun, not Sagan.

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