March 7th, 2012 | Sci-Tech, University

School of Medicine grad wins big settlement

A Sacramento jury awarded a settlement in the hundreds of millions to a Yale School of Medicine graduate. Above, California's Capitol Building in Sacramento.
A Sacramento jury awarded a settlement in the hundreds of millions to a Yale School of Medicine graduate. Above, California's Capitol Building in Sacramento. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

A Sacramento jury awarded a Yale School of Medicine graduate $168 million in damages last week in a lawsuit over 18 complaints of harassment and professional misconduct at Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ani Chopourian MED ’99 began working as a physician assistant for the cardiovascular surgical team at Mercy General in August 2006. Once on the job, Chopourian saw inappropriate behavior by numerous surgeons. One surgeon, she said, stabbed her with a needle and, in a fit of rage, broke the ribs of an anesthetized patient, she said. Another surgeon called her “stupid chick” and asked if she was a member of the terrorist group al-Qaida because of her Armenian heritage, she said. Two years after she joined Mercy General, as she was filing complaints about the harassment she had experienced, Chopourian was fired for unprofessional conduct.

The $168 million in damages Chopourian won represents the largest judgment for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history.

“Cardiac surgery brings in the most money for any hospital facility, which is why they are willing to turn a blind eye to illegal and inappropriate behavior,” Chopourian told the Associated Press. “We had four very strong witnesses who were frightened to speak out but did so because they felt it was important that someone put a stop to this.”

The court’s Wednesday verdict includes $125 million in punitive damages and $42.7 million for lost wages and emotional trauma. Mercy General President Denny Powell said the hospital stands by its decision to fire Chopourian and will appeal the verdict.