Terra Sigillata

Well, things have changed in my life that have begun to impact my posting frequency so I really appreciate the support of readers when I last spoke of this change of life (no, not menopause).

I’ve even gotten so distracted that I have neglected to read the daily fishwrapper – that is until today’s recycling when I stood outside on the street at 6 am rummaging through my blue bin to read Tuesday’s paper (hell, it was news to me). At least I was courteous enough to the neighbors to throw on a pair of shorts.

In it, I learned that an academic physician settled with her employer for $200K after being reduced to 40% salary following her maternity leave. That’s not all, so I will provide the text and ask you to comment before I tell you that I think the doc still got the short end of the stick (oops, I already told you), particularly since the case illustrated a pattern of hostile work environment toward other women physicians:

Dr. Adrea Theodore sued the university last year over discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy and race. The lawsuit alleged that several female faculty members complained of sex discrimination in pediatrics. . .

. . .Her attorney, Caitlyn Fulghum, said the mediated settlement represented a large amount for a state agency. But Fulghum added, “You can’t ever really undo the damage from something like this. Her career has been compromised in a way that’s impossible to fix.”. . .

. . .In 2004, Theodore became pregnant at the same time as another colleague in the department, the lawsuit said, and the two doctors had the same due date. . .

. . .Theodore took family medical leave in December 2004 and planned to return to work in April 2005. But in a meeting with [her superiors] in 2005, the lawsuit said, Theodore was told that she would have to choose between a part-time position or a terminated contract in July. Theodore also was told she could no longer perform clinical duties and be paid by the department but that she could work part time in a research-only position in another department, reducing her pay by 40 percent and making her ineligible for benefits.

Theodore, who is black, alleged in the suit that white faculty members were given department funding. . .

. . .Fulghum said there was never any performance problem or negative evaluation of Theodore. . . .

. . .Theodore met with other female faculty members in the department to discuss discrimination complaints in 2005. Male physicians were commonly introduced as “Dr.,” the lawsuit said, while female doctors were introduced by their first names. One faculty member was told she could not be serious about her career if she had another child, the lawsuit said, and another professor was denied a request for a door on her cubicle so she could pump breast milk for her infant. There was no lactation facility for faculty in the department that routinely advises its patients to breast-feed, the suit said.

Of course, various caveats apply because the employer pleaded “no comment” due to this being a personnel issue and the fact that the settlement did not require any statement of wrongdoing by the employer.

I have no personal knowledge of or interaction with any of the players here but something just sounds a little out of whack for my bullshit detector.

In closing, the chairman of a panel assigned to investigate these issues, “remarked that ‘all of this started because some women wanted to pump their breasts,’ according to the suit.’”

Way to marginalize the situation, chief.

Comments

  1. #1 PhysioProf
    May 23, 2008

    [A]nother professor was denied a request for a door on her cubicle so she could pump breast milk for her infant.

    Professors in doorless cubicles?! Jesus Fucking Christ!! What kind of fucking university has its professors in fucking cubicles!?

  2. #2 Grant Canyon
    May 23, 2008

    Interesting article. The frustrating thing for me is that there appears to be little more than a rehashing of the complaint here, so we don’t have any presentation of the university’s take on the matter. That being said, these are some horrible allegations (although only a fool would form an opinion based on the complaint alone.)

    But I’m really writing to take issue with the view that the settlement should be “equitable.” This was a settlement, so questions of “equitity” really don’t come into play. The plaintiff did not have to agree to this settlement, but apparently thought this was the best she could hope for, given the weaknesses and strengths of the case and the reasonable hopes for recovery. The only question regarding settlements is whether it is “acceptable” to the parties. If it wasn’t, then she could have tried the case in front of a jury and taken her chances.

  3. #3 ScienceWoman
    May 23, 2008

    Ugh. That last comment is just another example of the hyporcrisy of physicians when it comes to best parenting practices. And the rest is pretty sickening too.

  4. #4 isles
    May 23, 2008

    “some women wanted to pump their breasts”

    Yuck, just yuck. Could he be any more patronizing?

  5. #5 Joe
    May 24, 2008

    Abel wrote “Way to marginalize the situation, chief.”

    Well said!

    It is wrong for senior faculty to determine what a woman intends for her career simply because she has a child. Look at my name, I am not a woman; but, I have seen this junk way too many years. It is unfortunate that people have to use the courts to enforce the obvious.

  6. #6 acmegirl
    May 27, 2008

    “The plaintiff did not have to agree to this settlement, but apparently thought this was the best she could hope for, given the weaknesses and strengths of the case and the reasonable hopes for recovery. The only question regarding settlements is whether it is “acceptable” to the parties. If it wasn’t, then she could have tried the case in front of a jury and taken her chances.”

    Interesting take, but sadly, very naive. The fact that the case was settled is in no way indicative of the merits of the case. And shame on those who would suggest that simply because a plaintiff chooses not to spend a great deal of time and money to get a larger portion of what she deserves that the case had no merit. There are plenty of other reasons not to pursue a case: too expensive (legal fees can eat up so much of the award that the return is less than the settlement after a trial), the possibility of blacklisting, the possibility of not recovering even if there is a judgement (defendants often find reasons not to pay up). These are the reasons a plaintiff may view a settlement as the “best she could hope for”, even if the case has all the merit in the world.

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    May 27, 2008

    To follow on the point made by acmegirl, a colleague reminded me that such cases also carry a large emotional burden as one continues to fight in what has already been a degrading experience.

    Sadly, a plaintiff’s propensity to settle for the good of their mental health, or economic or career reasons (to simply move on with one’s life) is a factor that large corporations count on in similar cases.