The former CEO of an Echo Park mental health center reached a settlement Thursday in her lawsuit alleging she was the victim of retaliation and gender discrimination when she was fired in 2017.
Lawyers for 62-year-old Mara Pelsman and Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center informed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Kwan of the resolution on the second day of the trial of her lawsuit, but no terms were divulged. The judge subsequently dismissed the jury that heard opening statements and initial testimony in the case on Wednesday.
Pelsman alleged she was initially demoted — and ultimately fired in May 2017 — after repeatedly expressing concerns about the Board of Directors’ actions that she believed potentially jeopardized the nonprofit hospital’s ability to provide safe patient care. One of Pelsman’s concerns was that the board president allowed the number of board members to fall below the mandatory minimum of nine individuals, allegedly making it a less effective governing body when it comes to patient care, according to her court papers.
The all-male board promoted a less-qualified male subordinate in her place, treated her with hostility, excluded her from discussions in which she had a right to participate, restricted her authority, placed her on leave and ultimately fired her, according to her suit.
“Having lost her job was the most devastating thing that happened to Ms. Pelsman,” plaintiff’s attorney Shaleen Shanbhag said in her opening statement. “All she wanted to do was make sure Gateways operated lawfully.”
Pelsman’s life has been in a “downward spiral” since losing her job and she found it hard to find comparable employment because her prospective employers are wary of hiring people who have been fired from previous employment, Shanbhag said. Her current job pays her far less than the $250,000 she earned as Gateways’ CEO and she is an independent contractor rather than an employee, Shanbhag said.
Defense attorney John Barber told jurors that there was no evidence that Pelsman was retaliated against or treated different because she is a woman.
“Gateways did absolutely nothing wrong in this case,” Barber said.
He described the plaintiff as someone who over time “lost her way” and said it became increasingly difficult for board members who tried to work with her to resolve their differences.
“She got to the point where she believed her judgment was all that mattered,” Barber said.
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