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Seventh Circuit Holds Female Surgeon Failed To Establish Gender Discrimination

 
 

HLD, v. 30, n. 4 (April 2002)

Seventh Circuit Holds Female Surgeon Failed To Establish Gender Discrimination

Plaintiff Anita Patt was employed as a general surgeon at Family Health Cooperative (Family Health). During her employment at Family Health, she was the only female surgeon in her department. In 1994, she discovered that she was earning approximately $50,000 less than a male junior surgeon in her department, and complained about the discrepancy. She received a $15,000 raise, and over the next five years continued to receive raises until the difference between the two salaries was $10,000. Patt alleged that her male colleagues instituted a "subtle campaign to derail her surgical career" by unjustifiably criticizing her medical abilities and assigning her only simple cases. After Patt filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), she alleged that male surgeons limited her surgical practice and unjustifiably subjected her to "endless peer review." Patt sued Family Health under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the trial court held that her unequal salary claim was time-barred. With regard to her discrimination and retaliation claims, the trial court held that Patt did not establish that she suffered from an adverse employment action. The trial court also found that Patt did not establish a hostile work environment. Patt appealed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the trial court, holding that Patt failed to raise a genuine issue for trial on any of her claims. First, with regard to the unequal salary claim, the appeals court held that Patt did not establish that she was paid less than a similarly situated male surgeon. The court noted that the surgeon to which she compared herself worked at Family Health one year longer than Patt and had additional medical training. Thus, the court determined that the salary discrepancy was the result of these other factors, not gender. Second, the court held that Patt could not establish that her male colleagues "intentionally hampered her surgical career because of gender-based animus" because Patt did not show that she suffered from an adverse employment action. The court noted that Patt never offered specific examples of how the male surgeons "derailed" her career. The court also noted that surgeons were assigned cases based on a rotation system, and that Patt in fact assigned cases to herself for three months out of each year.

Third, the court found that Patt did not establish a hostile work environment. The court noted that Patt substantiated her claims by pointing to eight gender-related comments made by the department chief. The court determined that, although the comments were offensive, they were too isolated to constitute "harassment so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of her employment." The court noted that six of the eight comments cited by Patt were made to other employees, and held that "second-hand" harassment "is obviously not as great as harassment directed toward Patt herself." Finally, the court held that Patt did not establish that she suffered from retaliation when she filed a complaint with the EEOC. The court determined that being subjected to peer review did not constitute an adverse employment action because peer review was a requirement in Patt's contract, and male colleagues also had cases referred to peer review.

Patt v. Family Health Sys., No. 00-2948, 2002 WL 181720 (7th Cir. Feb. 6, 2002) (8 pages).

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