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Doctor wins $3.1 million in discrimination suit against UPMC

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Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009

Standing up for other female doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute cost Dr. Kristina Gerszten her job, a federal jury decided yesterday.

The eight-person jury awarded Gerszten $3.1 million in damages and pay arising from her discrimination lawsuit.

Gerszten, 46, of Squirrel Hill said the verdict validates her three-year battle with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center affiliate and the administrator she said tried to destroy her career.

"The administration tried to cover his tracks, and I hope this scenario is never again repeated," she said.

She now works as a radiation oncologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood declined comment on the jury verdict and award.

"We are reviewing our options," he said.

Gerszten worked as a radiation oncologist for UPMC from 1992 until May 31, 2007.

She started questioning how her colleagues were being treated in 2006. She specifically complained the hospital was passing them over to give promotions and prestigious positions to less-experienced male doctors. The hospital only made a superficial examination of her complaints, said her lawyer, Colleen Ramage Johnston.

"UPMC launched a sham investigation into those allegations," she said.

The hospital then let the administrator she was complaining about, Dr. Dwight Heron, decide Gerszten's fate, Johnston said.

Heron passed Gerszten over for medical director positions at UPMC St. Margaret and the Cancer Center in the Natrona Heights section of Harrison. He also declined to renew or renegotiate her contract in 2007.

"It was pretty obvious that this was retaliation," Johnston said.

Heron couldn't be reached for comment.

The jury awarded Gerszten $200,000 in compensatory damages, $1.6 million in back pay, $827,000 in front pay and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Johnston said federal law limits punitive damages to $300,000, so the $500,000 award will reduce automatically. U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab also can change the compensation awards recommended by the jury, she said.

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