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TGH, ex-spokeswoman settle suit

Terms of the settlement between the hospital and the former employee are not disclosed.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


TAMPA -- A former spokeswoman at Tampa General Hospital has settled her discrimination lawsuit against the hospital on confidential terms, her attorneys said Wednesday.

The settlement came just weeks before a trial that would have featured many of the players who converted Tampa General from a public hospital to a private one in 1997, including former hospital president Bruce Siegel.

Hospital officials had called spokeswoman Cindy Tanner's departure in 1997 part of a downsizing. But Tanner, who is white, said she was illegally dropped from her $37,000-a-year job in favor of an African-American consultant deployed to smooth over the hospital's race relations with the community. In court papers filed for the lawsuit, Tanner said she was penalized for speaking out against what she saw as Siegel's dishonest public relations tactics. They included using hospital employees to pack the audiences of public hearings at which the hospital was trying to sell its privatization plan, court papers stated.

Although Tanner had dealt with reporters for years on behalf of the hospital, Siegel's predecessor, former hospital president Fred Karl, had privately questioned Tanner's loyalty, court records show. Karl had referred to Tanner as the "queen of the termites" for her supposed undermining of his administration, the court records said.

To see whether or not Tanner was leaking sensitive information to the press, Siegel and other hospital officials planted a nugget of stray information with a hospital staffer to see if Tanner would learn of it and leak it to the press, court records show.

The information -- about TGH's interest in a partnership with St. Joseph's and other local hospitals -- ultimately appeared in March 1997 St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune stories about Siegel's plan to move the hospital to North Tampa. But it was never made clear whether Tanner was the conduit.

Tanner and her attorneys declined Wednesday to comment on the terms of the settlement. She had sought lost pay and punitive damages of approximately $650,000. "Cindy Tanner's happy to get this behind her and happy to move on with her life," said attorney Barry Cohen. A spokeswoman for Tampa General declined to comment.

The settlement was apparently prompted by a mediation between the parties Tuesday conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Scriven. Scriven declined to allow reporters for the Times and the Tribune to attend, citing the confidentiality routinely imposed on mediations.

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- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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