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UW HEALTH | UNEQUAL TREATMENT ALLEGED

Female UW doctor who sued alleging unfair treatment gets $180,000 settlement

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UW Hospital

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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