HMS Professor Settles in Gender Discrimination Suit

Five years after filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School professor Carol A. Warfield has reached a $7 million settlement with the Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital. Observers say that the agreement, which also stipulates that the hospital rename its pain center in Warfield’s honor, is one of the largest gender discrimination settlements ever to be publicly disclosed in Massachusetts.

Warfield, who sits on the Harvard Medical School faculty and was the first woman with an endowed chair at the Medical Center, filed a lawsuit in March of 2008 alleging gender discrimination and retaliation on the part of hospital leadership.

Ellen J. Zucker, Warfield’s attorney, said that along with the settlement payment, the renaming of the pain center, and compensation for lost income, the hospital has also agreed to sponsor an annual lecture series on women’s contributions to surgery. In addition, it will “reaffirm and...clarify its policies and procedures to ensure that all employees have mechanisms available to them to raise concerns about discrimination and retaliation,” Zucker said.

A joint statement released last week by the involved parties said that, while they have “resolved their differences,” the defendants, who include former Medical Center Chief of Surgery Josef E. Fischer and former Medical Center president and CEO Paul F. Levy, admit no wrongdoing on their parts. Levy and Fischer’s attorney Richard D. Glovsky both declined requests for comment on the case Monday afternoon.

Warfield’s 2008 complaint alleged that over a period of years Fischer disrespected Warfield—who was then the chair of the hospital’s anesthesia department—and her female colleagues, The complaint also claimed that Levy failed to address the discrimination complaints brought forward by Warfield. Despite additional complaints to hospital leadership and an investigation of Fischer’s and Warfield’s relationship which found fault with Fischer, the misconduct allegedly continued, and Warfield was dismissed from her chair position in July 2007.

The defendants attempted to keep the matter in arbitration, but the Suffolk Superior Court denied that request and sent the dispute to trial. The trial would have began last week had the settlement not been reached. In the joint statement, the hospital’s General Counsel Jamie Katz said that the hospital is pleased that the matter has been resolved and looks forward to serving the community—a goal shared by Warfield and the rest of the hospital’s staff.

“This case serves as a reminder that, with time and consideration, people of goodwill can learn from one another,” Katz said in the statement.

Zucker said that the settlement was “enormously gratifying.”

“It’s an unusual resolution, because it was not just about damages, a sum of money, and everyone going their separate ways,” Zucker said.

Warfield, who joined the Medical Center’s staff in 1980, called the hospital “an institution I’ve loved for the past 35 years,” and said she hopes the outcome of her case could help other Medical Center staff and faculty.

“I’m really heartened by the fact that the hospital has taken this opportunity to move forward and reaffirm their commitment to women, to equal opportunity,” Warfield said.

Zucker said that her client’s “courage and willingness to stay the course” was aimed at making a difference for others as well as herself.

“As a lawyer, it’s a good day when you get a deserving client a resolution with which they are content,” Zucker said. “It’s a great day when you get a resolution not only for them, but for others.”

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.

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