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WATSON v. MAGEE WOMEN'S HOSP.

May 30, 1979

Doris M. WATSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MAGEE WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL

Plaintiff Doris Watson filed this employment discrimination suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. ┬ž 2000e-5, alleging that the defendant, Magee Women's Hospital, discharged her "due to discrimination against (her) because of her sex." She requested damages and attorney's fees. All jurisdictional prerequisites to federal suit had been met.

After four days of trial, this Court must determine whether Plaintiff Watson's claim of discrimination has been proved. At the close of plaintiff's case, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, alleging that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof in establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. We construed that motion as a motion for a directed verdict under Rule 50 and took it under advisement, directing the defendant to go forward with its proof. The case is now ripe for decision on the merits.

 In August of 1957, Plaintiff Doris Watson was hired by Dr. Paul Taylor to work as a laboratory technician under his direction doing pediatric research at Magee Women's Hospital. She was discharged in June of 1973, after almost sixteen years on the job.

 For most of this time, the laboratory in which plaintiff worked was located on the premises of Magee Women's Hospital. For a short period of time in the early 1960's the pediatric lab moved to nearby Children's Hospital; however, it has been constantly at Magee since 1962, and even while work was being conducted at Children's Hospital, certain other of the lab work continued at Magee.

 At the time she began her employment at Magee plaintiff's salary was paid by the "25 Club," a group funding infant research. Sometime shortly thereafter she began to be paid by the defendant hospital; the defendant's personnel director, John H. McKrell, testified that she was treated as an employee of the hospital, subject to its policies for management level employees.

 Dr. Taylor was plaintiff's supervisor from 1958 to 1973, except for two periods of about one year each when he was working abroad. The first of these periods occurred from summer, 1959 to summer, 1960; the second from mid-1971 to mid-1972. Plaintiff testified that Dr. Taylor hired an additional technician in 1962, a woman named Gail, who left after about one year; Dr. Taylor then hired one Viera Watterman, another woman, who worked in the lab from 1963 to 1969; while Mrs. Watterman and plaintiff were both there, Dr. Taylor hired Julia Pitcavage who worked at the lab for three or four years. For a time, then, Dr. Taylor had three female assistants in his lab. About 1969, Betty Steranko was hired. Mrs. Steranko, like Mrs. Watterman, had young children at home. In 1970, Peggy Harper was hired and worked only a short while. For the last two or three years of plaintiff's employment with defendant, she and Mrs. Steranko were the two technicians in the lab, and Mrs. Steranko alone remained after plaintiff was discharged, no one ever having been hired to replace the plaintiff.

 From 1959 to 1973, Every full-time lab technician hired by Dr. Taylor for plaintiff's lab was female.

 Plaintiff had a very responsible position in the pediatric laboratory and testimony and exhibits both indicate that she contributed substantially to pediatric research over the years. She also taught lab procedures to new doctors who had no experience in animal surgery. In an employment evaluation, Dr. Taylor once described her performance as "excellent our standard setter in the lab."

 The primary research project in this lab involved experiments on premature lambs which were removed from sheep's wombs and then kept alive and tested. Each lamb experiment required a full day of concentrated effort by the staff, often without time for breaks or meals. Because of nature's cycle, the "lambing" season being from December to April, these experiments were concentrated in the spring months. These experiments were intended to uncover respiratory and renal problems which were often causes of neonatal deaths in human babies. During 1972 and 1973, experiments were conducted on two or three lambs per week during the season. Work on these days was arduous and fast-paced.

 During other times of the year, the laboratory conducted other animal experiments and compiled materials for publication.

 Letters between plaintiff and Dr. Taylor while Dr. Taylor was abroad, submitted into evidence, demonstrate that the two had had a close working relationship for many years. They also show that each had a deep concern for the other's well-being and family life. In the few years preceding 1973, plaintiff had many personal problems. She was separated and divorced from her husband of twenty years during this time; she had four children in the teen years; her mother died sometime in 1971 or 1972. For many years she had been plagued with health problems. She testified that she had had rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager; that she had been hospitalized with mononucleosis in 1960 or 1961; that she had experienced a nervous breakdown; that she developed high-blood pressure sometime during her years at Magee and that she was diagnosed as having hypoglycemia in the early 1970s.

 In addition to her personal difficulties, things at work became hard for her after Dr. Taylor left for Switzerland in 1971. During that time Dr. Alexander C. Allen was in charge of the lab, and a Dr. Dora Stinson also was involved in the work being done there. Whatever the origins of their disputes, it is clear that plaintiff did not get along with Doctors Allen and Stinson as well as she had with Dr. Taylor. Dr. Allen testified by deposition that from what he had heard about plaintiff's work when he joined the lab, she had functioned well in the past; however, her performance deteriorated in the last two years she was at Magee. She was disorganized and sloppy in running the lab and generally inefficient (T.17-20). Dr. Allen also testified that she could not adapt to new methods and techniques and that she disagreed with the doctors on how to accomplish certain procedures. (T.13-14) This was corroborated to some extent by plaintiff's testimony that she had a dispute with Dr. Stinson over an "EM" machine and that she felt Dr. Stinson wanted results too fast in order to publish research papers. In her letters to Dr. Taylor, plaintiff declared that she was "so fed up with Dr. Allen" that she had become "a robot" on the job and that Donna (Dr. Allen's secretary) was "a scheming female who can lie and turn on and off the tears at will" (Defendant's Exh. B), that she was "on the verge of exhaustion" (Defendant's Exh. C), and that she might not still be at work at Magee when Dr. Taylor returned from Europe (Defendant's Exh. A and B). Dr. Taylor's replies attempted to reassure plaintiff, telling her to "Hold tight! You only have 10 months to wait until the lab gets noisy and thoroughly messed up again . . . you are much in the center of my planning" (Plaintiff's Exh. 18) and that "the pressure will ease up once I return . . . I need you and Betty" (Plaintiff's Exh. 20).

 Ronald Dean, an EEOC compliance officer who investigated plaintiff's charge, testified that his investigation revealed that Dr. Stinson and plaintiff could not get along.

 Plaintiff's two children, Janette Blair and Kent Watson, both of whom worked in the hospital as student assistants, testified that their mother worked long hours, often without breaks. During the lamb season, she would arrive at the hospital between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and would not leave until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. The drive to and from home took over an hour. She was frequently very tired after work during 1971 and 1972.

 Plaintiff stated that she did not believe her health problems were aggravated by her work at the lab but rather by the lack of help and long hours without breaks.

 Dr. Paul Taylor testified that after he returned to the hospital in 1972, he began a series of weekly meetings with Doctors Allen and Stinson who continued to work at the pediatric lab. Both complained about plaintiff's work, and felt that the lab would run better with only Mrs. Steranko as technician. Dr. Taylor did not suspend or discipline plaintiff in any way; however, he testified that he felt he had made it clear to her in informal discussions that her work was unsatisfactory. Sometime in late 1972, Dr. Taylor determined that plaintiff would have to be terminated; he testified in court that this was not an easy decision, since he had known plaintiff personally for many years. He also felt that the work situation was stressful for her, that the long drive to and from work was taxing on her, and that she continued to have many family pressures. He saw her health as deteriorating while work at the lab remained demanding and urgent. Dr. Taylor never documented these problems; instead he looked for a way to terminate her.

 In April of 1973, plaintiff became ill and was hospitalized. On April 20, Dr. Taylor came to visit her in the hospital. Although her physician, Dr. Cammarata, had told her she could return to work if she improved, Dr. Taylor discouraged her from returning. He suggested she resign from her job because of her deteriorating health. When plaintiff refused to resign, Dr. Taylor soon terminated her.

 Her personnel records show she "resigned" due to health problems.

 Doctors Allen and Stinson continued to work in the lab until 1975. Mrs. Steranko stayed on, working as the only lab technician after plaintiff's discharge, and the lab operated for four years ...


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