Doctor wins suit against cancer institute
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A radiation oncologist who formerly worked for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute won a potential $3 million verdict in federal court yesterday on charges that her employer retaliated against her for raising concerns about discrimination.
The jury recommended that Dr. Kristina Gerszten be awarded $1.5 million in back pay from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, which works in tandem with the UPMC Cancer Centers, as well as $827,292 in front pay. But according to Dr. Gerszten's attorney, those amounts are only advisory.
It will be up to U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab to determine what amount the defendant will have to pay.
Paul Wood, a spokesman for UPMC, said the health care provider was still reviewing the verdict and had not made a decision whether to appeal or to offer Dr. Gerszten a settlement.
She filed a federal lawsuit in September 2008, alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her gender and retaliated against for making the original complaint to hospital officials.
The jury found no evidence of sex discrimination, but it did find that she was retaliated against when the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute failed to hire her as medical director at both UPMC St. Margaret and at its facility in Natrona Heights.
In addition to back and front pay, the verdict includes $200,000 in compensatory damages, as well as $300,000 in punitive damages. The jury found that punitive damages should be $500,000, but under law, the cap is $300,000, said Dr. Gerszten's attorney, Colleen Ramage Johnston.
"They made it very clear," Ms. Johnston said. "They awarded punitive damages, which is not typical. That part of the verdict speaks loudly to us that UPMC Cancer Centers violated the law in a malicious way."
Dr. Gerszten, 46, of Squirrel Hill, was employed as a radiation oncologist with UPMC from 1992 to 2007.
After leaving her position as medical director for radiation oncology at Magee-Womens Hospital in February 2004, Dr. Gerszten signed a two-year contract in which she traveled to various UPMC cancer centers and provided coverage.
According to a court filing, UPMC said Dr. Gerszten negotiated her schedule so that she would only work 180 to 200 days each year, though she would be considered a full-time employee.
In 2006, Dr. Gerszten was given a new, one-year contract at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. In January 2007, the institute chose not to renew.
As part of that contract, Dr. Gerszten said, she had an 18-month non-compete clause and was left without work until January 2009.
She now works part time at the Department of Veterans Affairs as a staff radiation oncologist.
"I take care of patients the way they should be taken care of," Dr. Gerszten said. "With UPMC, the emphasis was on the money."
First Published November 26, 2009 12:00 am