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Mass. General Hospital wins gender discrimination lawsuit

Massachusetts General Hospital won a significant victory in federal court Thursday.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

Massachusetts General Hospital won a significant victory in federal court Thursday.

Massachusetts General Hospital won a significant victory in federal court Thursday when a jury decided that the hospital and its doctors did not engage in gender discrimination against a young female surgeon.

Dr. Nina Shervin, a former orthopedic surgery resident, was one of the few women in the orthopedics department, and she contended that the hospital discriminated against her by placing her on probation and then, after she complained, by refusing to give her a permanent job.

During the six-week trial, many of Boston’s biggest names in orthopedic surgery appeared on the witness stand.

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Ultimately, the US District Court jury of six women and three men rejected Shervin’s claims. They decided in favor of Mass. General and its codefendants on all counts, including her claims of gender discrimination, retaliation, and interference with her efforts to land a job after completing her training.

In a written statement, Dr. Peter L. Slavin, hospital president, and Dr. David F. Torchiana, chairman of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, said they were grateful the trial was over.

“Since the beginning of this case, our focus has been on demonstrating that the arguments made against us were inconsistent with our policies, our practices, and our culture,’’ they said.

Ellen Zucker, one of Shervin’s attorneys, said her client plans to ask for a new trial in US District Court as well as file an appeal in the First Circuit Court. Zucker said “there was strong evidence” that Judge Denise J. Casper did not allow Shervin to put before the jury, including “the substance of a Harvard Medical School review of the MGH Department of Orthopaedics which directly addressed issues with departmental leadership and the Department’s hiring practices.’’

The jury could not consider whether the hospital discriminated against Shervin by placing her on probation in February 2007 because under the statute of limitations, that action came too long ago, the judge instructed the jury. The judge also decided jurors could not consider claims of retaliation before June 2008. Zucker said she believes these rulings were in error.

The suit also named Partners HealthCare, the parent company of Mass. General; Harvard Medical School; the physicians organization; Dr. James Herndon, the hospital’s director of residency training; and Dr. Harry Rubash, chief of orthopedic surgery.

Slavin and Torchiana said that the proportion of women on the hospital’s teaching faculty has grown to 40 percent, the majority of the executive management team are women, and four chiefs of the hospital’s major clinical departments are female.

“At the same time, we recognize that this progress must continue,’’ they said.

In her opening argument, Zucker told the jurors that the defendants put Shervin on probation, despite outstanding evaluations from many senior surgeons, because of a conflict with a male trainee and then retaliated against her when she complained about bias.

Herbert Holtz, the attorney for Partners and the Mass. General physicians group, drew a very different picture of Shervin during his opening statement. Shervin, he said, was “a doctor full of promise and then lost the trust of her colleagues’’ because of a subpar performance.

The trial provided a rare glimpse into turmoil inside the Mass. General orthopedics department. Surgeons who testified during the trial included Dr. Thomas Gill, who was replaced last month as medical director of the New England Patriots, an action the team attributed to Gill no longer being chief of sports medicine at the hospital. Documents filed in the lawsuit provided contradictory accounts as to why Gill was forced from his hospital postafter a bitter turf war.

Shervin’s attorneys charged that Gill was removed because he had advocated with hospital leaders for two women who were the victims of alleged sexual harassment. The hospital, however, contended that Gill “became a polarizing chief” in the sports medicine division.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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