A Sacramento hospital has the dubious distinction of being hit with what may be the largest sexual harassment verdict in history. On August 7, 2008, Mercy General Hospital terminated Ani Chopourian, a 45-year-old former cardiac surgery physician assistant who was educated at UCLA and Yale, allegedly for failing to show up for an on-call shift and for sleeping on the job. Chopourian claimed the real reason she was being terminated was because she had filed 18 written complaints over a two-year period covering patient safety to sexual harassment to meal and rest break violations. Her last complaint was filed just 7 days before she was terminated.
On April 29, 2012, a federal court jury unanimously sided with Chopourian and found that Mercy Hospital had engaged in sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, intentional interference with her job search, defamation and meal and rest break violations. The jury slapped Mercy Hospital with a landmark $168 million verdict, consisting of economic damages, emotional distress damages and punitive damages.
During the 11-day trial, Chopourian testified that she was tormented and sexually harassed by surgeons and medical staff for 2 years. Chopourian recounted how one harasser told her, “you’ll give in to me”, to which she replied, “I’ll never give in to you”. Chopourian told reporters, “I’d look at my supervisor and say, ‘Do something.’ They’d just laugh”. Witnesses confirmed that one of the surgeons would greet employees with “I’m horny”. Chopourian’s lawyer, Lawrence Bohm, described the hospital as a “raunchy, vile, toxic workplace”.
A year after being terminated, Chopourian found a new position. She lost that job, however, after Mercy withdrew Chopourian’s hospital privileges – typically the kiss of death for medical professionals. Chopourian became unemployed and continued to live off donations from friends and family at the time of trial.
After the verdict, Mercy General Hospital President Denny Powell issued a statement saying they would appeal: “We do not believe that the facts support this verdict or judgment. We stand by the actions we took in ending our relationship with this former employee.” Chopourian’s attorney responded, “It’s very disappointing that they want to appeal after so much evidence and after so many witnesses came forward so bravely.”