In what is believed to be the largest single workplace harassment award from a jury verdict, a physician assistant won $168 million for her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against Sacramento General Hospital. Ani Chopourian was fired after complaining numerous times to human resources during the two years she worked at the hospital.
Chopourian has a masters degree from UCLA and a P.A. degree from the Yale School of Medicine. Prior to joining the cardiovascular surgical team at Sacramento’s Mercy General in August of 2006, Chopourian worked at four other hospitals in New England and California. If you are being harassed or discriminated at your place of employment, our attorneys can help determine if you have a claim against your employer. Our attorneys have helped many clients protect their workplace rights.
Chopourian alleged at least 18 instances of bullying and harassment. For example, one of the surgeons who bullied her once stabbed her with a needle and broke an anesthetized heart patient’s ribs while in a fit of rage. Another surgeon greeted her every morning by saying “I’m horny” and slapped her bottom while another called her “stupid chic” in the operating room and made disparaging comments about her Armenian background and asked her if she had joined Al Qaeda. She was also was denied meal breaks in violation of California’s wage and hour laws.
Mercy General’s management denied the charges and told the jury that they fired and tried to deny her unemployment benefits because she was guilty of professional misconduct. They tried to argue that she was not a “team player.”
Chopourian has stated that “Cardiac surgery brings in the most money for any hospital facility, which is why they are willing to turn a blind eye to illegal and inappropriate behavior.” Although witnesses for Chopourian were afraid to speak, they testified in order to stop the misconduct.
Workplace harassment is a type of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It becomes illegal when enduring offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or when the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. It is also unlawful to harass an individual in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, a lawsuit, or for participating in an investigation, proceeding or lawsuit.
This verdict represents an important lesson to be learned by employers, especially hospitals and health care facilities. You can’t ignore illegal harassing or discriminatory conduct just because the offender is your hospitals leading surgeon. Given the number of times Chopourian complained, it is not just shameful but irresponsible for management to let this kind of conduct continue without taking any kind of action. No matter who the harasser is, whether it’s a low paid supervisor or a surgeon bringing in millions in revenue, you have to take steps to treat all employees equally. Make sure your company has an effective grievance procedure that addresses complaints of harassment or discrimination no matter who the alleged offender is. Our attorneys have provided anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training to many managers and employees to help companies prevent the high cost of defending such a lawsuit. Call our Workplace Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to discuss how we can help your company prevent unnecessary and expensive litigation.
Disclaimer: Thank you for visiting our Blog. This blog provides general information and thoughts about various employment law issues primarily in the New York Tri-State area and occasionally in other areas. You are welcome to read the posts. However, do not construe any content on this blog as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. Again, we provide the content only for informational purposes. You should not make decisions based information on our blog since the application of the law depends on the facts and each situation may be different. In addition, the law in most jurisdictions is different and changes constantly and we make no representations that any information on our blog has been updated. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from an experienced employment law attorney in your state or jurisdiction.