A former UCLA hematologist who won $13 million after claiming she was forced out of her job as director of the medical school’s lymphoma program because a male-dominated administration ignored her complaints of age and gender discrimination was awarded another $1.8 million in attorneys’ fees Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield said the amount was reasonable, despite protests to the contrary by attorneys for the Regents of the University of California. They argued that Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown’s lawsuit was a routine case and that lead plaintiffs’ attorney Carney Shegerian’s fees of $1,100 per hour were excessive. He was one of nine lawyers who worked on behalf of Pinter-Brown.
“Mr. Shegerian is known as one of the top two or three plaintiffs-side trial attorneys,” Linfield said.
Phil Hampton, director of media relations for the UCLA Health/David Geffen School of Medicine, issued a statement in the wake of Friday’s ruling.
“UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine disagree with the jury’s verdict in this case and are appealing,” the statement read. “We are committed to maintaining a workplace free from discrimination, intimidation, retaliation or harassment of any kind. Allegations of inappropriate conduct are promptly reviewed and appropriately addressed, consistent with UCLA and University of California policies and procedures.”
A jury on Feb. 15 found that Pinter-Brown was subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation. The panel rejected the 63-year-old doctor’s age discrimination claim.
Pinter-Brown, an expert in T-cell lymphoma research, testified that conditions for her became nearly intolerable at UCLA.
“I lived in a state of terror, basically,” she said. “I was anxious all the time.”
Pinter-Brown testified she was repeatedly berated for her clinical trial work by a subordinate physician, Dr. Sven De Vos, who also once turned his back to her during a meeting and often interrupted her when she spoke.
“I was trying to establish myself as someone who was respected,” Pinter-Brown said. “It was like the butt of a joke.”
Defense attorney Jason Mills said during trial that much of the conflict between Pinter-Brown and De Vos was rooted in their different ideas about how clinical trials should be conducted. In addition, some medical committee members became concerned about how Pinter-Brown’s trials were proceeding, resulting in the suspension of her research privileges in June 2012, Mills said.
The research privileges were reinstated in October 2013 and Pinter-Brown was doing well, but she departed for UC Irvine in January 2016 on her own volition, he said.
In her argument opposing the Shegerian firm’s fees request, defense attorney Kathryn McGuigan argued that the hourly rate charged by Shegerian is normally only seen by those who practice patent or antitrust law. She said Shegerian’s fees on previous cases he won were for about $700 an hour.
Lawyer Barbara Fitzgerald, also on behalf of the UCLA regents, told the judge that Pinter-Brown’s lawsuit was a “run-of-the-mill case” that also happened to be tried amid the MeToo movement, likely benefiting the plaintiff.
But Anthony Nguyen, who works for the plaintiff’s firm, said Shegerian received $1,000 an hour in fees in a previous case. He also said the Pinter-Brown case was not an easy one to try because the plaintiff resigned due to the conditions at UCLA and was able to get new employment at UC Irvine.
“A run-of-the-mill case?” Nguyen asked. “I think far from it.”
Nguyen also said that neither Pinter-Brown nor any of her lawyers have received any compensation since the verdict because the UC regents have appealed.
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