A UW Health anesthesiologist who sued the former head of her department and the UW Board of Regents — alleging unequal pay, unequal opportunity and a hostile work environment for female doctors — has received a $180,000 settlement.
In March 2019, Dr. Maria Fabbrocini sued Dr. Robert Pearce and the Regents in U.S. District Court in Madison. The legal action followed a university report in 2017 that said the anesthesiology department should recruit more female residents, examine salaries for gender equity and boost mentoring of leaders to improve a culture characterized by “male centrism.”
The state of Wisconsin, representing Pearce and the Regents, agreed to pay $180,000 in a settlement April 15, according to a copy of the agreement the Wisconsin State Journal received Wednesday through a records request. Of that amount, Fabbrocini gets $80,000 and her attorneys at Pines Bach in Madison get $100,000.
Fabbrocini, who went to medical school and did her residency at UW-Madison, started working there in 2008. In her suit, she alleged she was paid less than male doctors doing similar or less work with similar or less skill. She had worked between 0.6 and 0.75 of full time, and the vast majority of part-time doctors in the department were women, the suit said. Pearce instituted a policy against considering part-time doctors for leadership roles, which deprived them of additional administrative pay, the suit said.
Pearce failed to discipline a male doctor with a history of physical abuse toward women in the department, and the doctor attacked Fabbrocini in 2010, grabbing her by the throat, shaking her and shouting in her face, the suit claimed. Pearce’s lack of discipline for disturbing behaviors “resulted in the serial sexual assault of a multitude of anesthetized female patients by a male physician,” the suit claimed.
The settlement does not mention any workplace conditions Pearce or the department agreed to as part of the dispute.
“While the university maintains that the allegations do not have merit, we decided to resolve the matter allowing the department to continue putting its primary focus and attention on patient care, teaching and research without the distraction of a lengthy and time-consuming lawsuit,” UW-Madison spokesperson Kelly Tyrrell said in a statement.
The 2017 report was based on a “climate review” conducted between February and August of that year. Pearce, department chair beginning in 2006, resigned from the position in July 2017 but remains on the faculty. Fabbrocini is no longer listed as being on the faculty.
A woman, Dr. Kelly McQueen, has been department chair since October 2019.
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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has supported federal abortion bans in the past and praised the leaked Roe draft opinion but said the matter is best be handled by each state. Still, the Oshkosh Republican's spokesperson, Alexa Henning, would not clarify whether Johnson would support a federal ban.
"The reality is there is no consensus on passing federal legislation, nor will there be without the process first playing out in the states," she said in a statement. "The Senator has always felt that this issue is best decided by the people on a state-by-state basis."
Johnson supported a federal 20-week abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. He also signed onto the U.S. Supreme Court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization — the case poised to trigger the court overturning Roe — to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. The Mississippi law has exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”
"Roe v. Wade delayed a democratic resolution to the profound moral question of abortion for 50 years," Henning said in a statement.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is the Democratic U.S. Senate frontrunner according to the Marquette Law School Poll, called for nationwide abortion protections and the abolition of the filibuster to achieve that goal.
“I firmly believe in every woman’s right to make decisions about her own body," he said in a statement. "Politicians have no right to put restrictions on that decision."
Barnes said he would vote in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act, the leading effort to codify the right to an abortion nationwide.
The measure would permit abortions any time before fetal viability and after viability as long as the pregnancy could pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health.
Milwaukee Bucks executive-on-leave Alex Lasry also said he supports Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin's Women's Health Protection Act.
Speaking from the U.S. Supreme Court the night the majority draft opinion came out, Lasry warned such a decision would lead to an almost complete abortion ban in Wisconsin.
Polling second in the Democratic Senate primary according to the Marquette poll, Lasry said he supports the proposal that guarantees "a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion — and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services — free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship."
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, the only female top-tier Senate candidate, campaigned on codifying Roe before the leaked draft opinion made national headlines.
She "opposes abortion restrictions that endanger or punish women," Godlewski spokesperson Sarah Abel said in a statement. She has also expressed support for the Women's Health Protection Act.
After the leak, Godlewski expressed frustration at Democrats' fruitless attempts to codify Roe and ran an ad blasting Johnson for supporting reversing a case that guaranteed abortion protections nationwide for nearly 50 years.
"Sarah believes these personal and complicated decisions should be left to women and their doctors," Abel said.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said he would vote to eliminate the filibuster and codify Roe if he were a U.S. senator after Politico broke the news about the leaked draft.
"A woman's right to choose is absolute. I trust women to make their own medical decisions," the Democratic Senate candidate said in a statement. "I have a 100% NARAL and Planned Parenthood voting record over three terms (2005-11) in the state Assembly — no one else in the field can match that."
Saying reproductive rights were on the ballot in November, Nelson also said he favors expanding the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservative justices currently hold a 6-3 majority on the court.
After the leak, Nelson said, "The Supreme Court has shown their hand. Senator Chuck Schumer must call a special session to blow up the filibuster and codify Roe now.”
Gov. Tony Evers
Soon after the Roe leak made national headlines, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers led a coalition of 17 governors across the country calling on Congress to pass Baldwin's Women’s Health Protection Act.
Still on the books but unenforceable since Roe, a resumption of the state ban would swamp Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ efforts to stand as a bulwark between the Republican-controlled Legislature and a full-fledged abortion ban.
Still, he said he "will fight every day" for access to abortion and reproductive rights as long as he is governor.
Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, whom the Marquette poll shows is the clear Republican frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, said she supports Wisconsin's law that bans abortion in almost every instance except for when the mother's life is at risk.
Asked during a Fox6 interview whether she would support additional exceptions for rape and incest, Kleefisch said she wouldn't because she doesn't "think it’s the baby’s fault how the baby is conceived."
She also said she hoped and prayed for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe. In the past, Kleefisch said she would support a bill banning abortions after doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat.
Kevin Nicholson debate
Management consultant and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson has called himself "100% pro-life" and said he prays Roe gets overturned.
While he once supported abortion rights, Nicholson said in a survey that he would ban abortions in all cases.
"I’m honored to be the only candidate for governor endorsed by both Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Family Action PAC," he said in a statement.
As governor, Nicholson said he would "(end) state funding of Planned Parenthood and (support) existing pregnancy resource centers around our state."
State Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, who is running for governor, also has called himself "100% pro-life."
Ramthun and Nicholson are the only two gubernatorial candidates endorsed by Pro-Life Wisconsin, a group that opposes abortion ban exceptions for rape, incest or the life and health of the mother.
He also voted against a package of anti-abortion legislation because they contained exceptions for when abortion would be permitted.
"A child should never suffer for the sins of their mothers or fathers, and all life is sacred," he said in a statement.