Campus News

UW Health female anesthesiologist cites abuse, gender-based inequity in legal suit

A female UW Health anesthesiologist filed suit against a former department head and UW System Board of regents, citing unequal pay, opportunity and abuse for female doctors.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Alleging unequal pay and opportunity along with a hostile work environment for female doctors, a UW Health anesthesiologist sued the former head of her department and the UW System Board of Regents. 

The class-action suit by Dr. Maria Fabbrocini against Dr. Robert Pearce and the Regents is on behalf of all female doctors in UW Health’s anesthesiology department since 2013. There are currently 32 female doctors in the department. 

Fabbrocini’s legal action follows a 2017 university report on the anesthesiology department, which found they need to recruit more female residents, examine gender equity of salaries and identify ways to combat a “male-centric” culture. 

The report, which was based on a rare “climate review” conducted between February and August 2016, revealed that although the department provides high quality medical care, it is a “good old boy network.” Although Pearce remains a faculty member, he resigned from his post after 10 years in July 2016. 

The environment is difficult for women, since there are twice as many male faculty as female among the 80 faculty members — and a large portion of the women are part-time, the Wisconsin State Journal found. 

Female residents are told not to “rock the boat,” pregnant women experience humiliation and the female-dominated American Family Children’s Hospital anesthesiology team are “infantilized” when said to work at “the crying hospital” or “candyland,” the report found. 

Fabbrocini, who went to medical school and completed her residency at UW-Madison, began working at the hospital in 2008. 

She alleged she was paid less than her male counterparts, despite having similar skills and workload. She was among the part-time doctors in the department, which are generally female, according to the suit. 

While in his position, Pearce instituted a policy that ended considering part-time doctors pursuing leadership roles, which stops them from additional administrative pay. He also has a history of not disciplining for ongoing questionable behaviors that “resulted in the serial sexual assault of a multitude of anesthetized female patients by a male physician,” the suit claimed. 

For example, a male doctor who physically abused women in the department — and attacked Fabbrocini by grabbing her by the throat, shaking her and shouting in her face in 2010 — was not disciplined by Pearce.  

Fabbrocini and Pearce did not respond for a comment to WSJ, along with UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette. However, Brunette stated their commitment to understanding the severity of the suit. 

“The [medical] school is fully committed to upholding a safe, just and supportive environment for all faculty, students and staff,” she said.

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