Dr. Cathy Barker* had worked her entire life so that she could help people. After significant training in the field of stem cell medicine, Cathy’s dreams came true when she began working as a stem cell researcher and stem cell transplant surgeon at a prominent university. Her husband, also a physician, was employed at the university, and together they were happily raising their young family.
Everything with Cathy’s career was going well. Her work was meaningful, she enjoyed her position at the university, and she, her husband, and her children were thriving. Cathy learned she was being paid less than the male physicians in her department. She said something to her boss about what she thought was discrimination on the basis of her gender. But the university didn’t respond by fixing the pay disparity. Instead, it punished Cathy for bringing this to its attention, cutting her funding so that she would lose her laboratory.
Retaliation for speaking up
The retaliation didn’t stop there. Additional moves were made to undermine Cathy, ultimately forcing her out of the department, and eventually the university. To add insult to injury, Cathy’s husband also lost his job due to the fallout from his wife’s justifiable discrimination complaints.
Losing her job, and being responsible for her husband losing his, was emotionally and financially devastating to Cathy and her entire family.
As the couple tried to get their careers back on track and find work to support their family, Cathy’s husband took a job that required a 2-hour commute each way. Cathy wasn’t even that fortunate. Though she was a brilliant physician at the top of her field, her area of expertise was so specialized that the university was the only place in the area that offered stem cell work. Finding comparable employment at another university would mean moving to another state altogether, uprooting their children from their school and the lives of their family.
David vs. Goliath
As one person battling a big institution, Cathy felt like David fighting Goliath—an underdog seemingly outmatched. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but as her case dragged on in the EEOC system, she became concerned about losing the chance to sue in Federal court because of the statute of limitations. The window of opportunity for Cathy and her family to get justice for the university’s wrongdoing was quickly closing.
When Cathy contacted us about her situation, we were as frustrated and shocked as she was at the way she had been treated, and we knew that time was critical.
First, to resolve the statute of limitations issues, we expedited matters by taking her case to State court. We also obtained key documents, put the responsible people under oath, and took depositions of high-level physicians at the university, uncovering and gathering evidence to show that Cathy had, indeed, been treated unfairly.
The case was finally settled just short of going to trial. While there was no way Cathy could have been made whole by simply reinstating her to her old position at the university (the working environment would have been downright unbearable), the settlement did allow Cathy to be able to take care of her family financially, making sure that her kids could stay in their home, get through school, and go off to college.
Too much to lose
Too often in employment cases such as this, the victims feel they should stop complaining and just get another job. But the reality is that losing your career—a career that you invested a lifetime to build—can be devastating. It’s no easy feat to bounce back from such a traumatic event unscathed, especially when it affects the entire family.
Dr. Cathy Barker, her husband, and their children are doing well today, despite the rocky course they were forced to take through no fault of their own. Thankfully, Cathy and her family have been able to put this injustice behind them. Her husband is enjoying a productive career of his own, her kids are growing into remarkable adults, and Cathy is back in a position where her training and talents are helping all of us live better lives.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.