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Zucker ’94 Wins $13 Million Settlement for Doctor

Wrongful termination case started national debate on surgeons performing two operations simultaneously.

Photograph by Christopher Soldt, MTS, BC

Ellen Zucker ’94, a top litigator at Burns Levinson and a known fighter for social justice, reached at $13 million settlement with Massachusetts General Hospital November 7 on behalf of her client, surgeon Dennis Burke. He had sued for wrongful termination after he’d expressed concerns about double-booked surgeries.

“It has been a true honor to represent Dr. Burke,” Zucker said in a statement. “Dr. Burke has long been recognized as an extraordinarily skilled surgeon and deeply compassionate caregiver, and his recent journey confirms what those close to him have always known: he is a person of immense decency, great principle and humility.”

As reported by the Boston Globe, Dr. Burke had questioned hospital procedures that allowed surgeons to schedule overlapping surgeries. His report to state regulators precipitated a national debate about the practice.

After his firing in 2015, he went to work elsewhere, and in 2017 filed the lawsuit against MGH.

Though MGH contested the suit, when the settlement was reached, the hospital said in a statement, “We are grateful for Dr. Burke’s efforts to shine a light on questions of surgical safety and quality that led to the development of important improvements in our institutional policies and improved care we deliver at MGH.”

In her statement, Zucker explained Dr. Burke’s quandary. “It is difficult to raise safety concerns in the workplace—any workplace—and Dr. Burke has done so with enormous grace and a deep fidelity to the principles of his profession,” she said. “To us, Dr. Burke is a hero. He stood up for patients, even when it risked his own position. We are pleased that this matter has been resolved in a way that honors both him and MGH at its best. …Today, we see it at its best.”

Zucker is a partner in Burns Levinson’s Business Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Employment, and White Collar Criminal Defense groups. She has won numerous awards, among them from the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and BC Law’s Women’s Law Center, which honored her as Woman of the Year in 2013.

Read more in the Boston Globe.