$1.6 million in damages has been awarded to a female neurosurgeon who claimed hostile work environment and retaliation against a male physician and Massachusetts hospital Brigham & Women’s.
A female neurosurgeon, Sangun Tuli, brought claims against her employers and her supervisor, Dr. Arthur Day, after a yearly review of her medical credentials resulted in a conditional reappointment. In 2007, Tuli’s medical staff credentials were up for review by the hospital’s credentialing committee. The results of that review would determine whether Tuli would continue be allowed to practice medicine at the hospital. Day, her supervisor, presented Tuli’s case to the committee in unflattering terms, suggesting that she would benefit from anger management training. The committee then conditioned Tuli’s reappointment on obtaining an evaluation by an outside agency and on agreeing to comply with that agency’s recommendations.
Tuli then filed a lawsuit asking for a preliminary injunction to prevent the loss of her privileges. She also alleged gender discrimination, claiming both disparate treatment and hostile work environment, based on Day’s behavior toward her. The district court granted the preliminary injunction and a jury decided Tuli’s claims, awarding $1 million in compensatory damages against the hospital on Tuli’s hostile environment claim, $600,000 against the hospital in compensatory damages on her retaliation claim, and $20,000 against Day personally for economic harm on a claim of “tortious interference with business.”
This case is a warning to employers on the risks associated with hostile environment and retaliation claims. The warning is especially strong for hospital and health care systems that directly employ physicians. The income level of the individual involved typically translates into higher damages awards when juries find in their favor and the risk created by the overlap between the credentialing process and hostile environment can’t be ignored, especially when an alleged harasser is directly involved in the credentialing process.