Court Case: Zylbert v. Stanford University School of Medicine, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Case History

Barbara Zylbert, a former medical student and intern/resident at Stanford University School of Medicine, sued the institution for sex discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract.

Zylbert was a medical student and intern/resident pursuing post-graduate training and licensure at Stanford University School of Medicine. She excelled in the program, winning fellowships and recognition as an outstanding student. From 1990 to 1991 Zylbert was sexually harassed by Dr. Mark Perlroth, a member of the medical faculty. Perlroth continued to pursue a sexual/romantic relationship with Zylbert, despite her repeated objections. The instructor also threatened her future medical career if she did not submit to his requests.

Zylbert filed a complaint and reported the situation to administrators, hoping to enlist their support. During the early 1990s, Perlroth allegedly harassed several women at the university, and Zylbert hoped that administrators would address the issue once and for all.

In early 1991 Zylbert entered into an agreement with Stanford to provide information for an internal investigation of Perlroth. In exchange for her cooperation and in recognition that her mere need to complain could jeopardize her professional future, Stanford promised Zylbert protection for her future medical education and professional career. Stanford found Perlroth guilty of the allegations by Zylbert and a second medical student and disciplined the professor. In early 1992 Zylbert then entered into a second agreement settling her claims against Perlroth.

Despite this promised protection, Zylbert continued to experience difficulties because of her sexual harassment complaint. Future employers and others prominent in the medical community labeled Zylbert a “troublemaker” and a “litigation risk.” In April 1998, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) accepted and employed Zylbert in a one-year transitional residency program that is operated by Stanford. Almost immediately after accepting her, SCVMC learned about her sexual harassment complaint at Stanford and attempted to expel Zylbert before she even started, allegedly for fear that she posed a litigation threat. Although Zylbert remained in the program, SCVMC attempted to manufacture false claims against her that would justify her termination and prejudice her future professional opportunities.

Zylbert asked university administrators to honor their protection of her future medical education and training as set forth in the settlement. Instead, she says that Stanford further retaliated by denying her training opportunities at Stanford during her internship year.

Zylbert filed suit in 2000, alleging that Stanford retaliated against her and breached a contractual obligation to protect her from retaliation. In May 2002 Zylbert settled her claims with Stanford under confidential terms and also settled with SCVMC for $50,000.

Key Case Issues

Sex discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract