SALT LAKE CITY — In 2011, Lara Silverman became the head scientist at a Salt Lake City company called Discgenics.
“I was taking the place of Christopher Duntsch,” Silverman recalled. “And that, of course, turned into quite a story with ‘Dr. Death.’”
That name was given to Duntsch, a Texas neurosurgeon, after he was suspected of maiming patients. He’s now serving a life sentence for injuring a patient with a deadly weapon. Duntsch has since been the subject of multiple articles, television shows and a podcast.
But Duntsch, who separated from Disgenics in 2011, is not a defendant in Silverman’s lawsuit against his old company. She contends she was harassed and denied advancement.
“There was a lot of sexual banter and locker room talk against women against members of the LGBT community,” Silverman said Tuesday in an interview with FOX 13 News.
Silverman says she was pregnant twice in her 10 years at the company.
“I was asked how I would do my job,” she said. “I was told I needed a transition plan because I would have two kids and I wouldn't be able to work anymore.”
“And I wasn't given a place to pump milk,” she added.
Discgenics is developing biotechnology to treat spinal diseases. Silverman has a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in Salt Lake City. In it, Silverman has filed a claim of discrimination.
She and her co-plaintiff, former Discgenics CFO Jeffrey Poole, have also filed a claim of retaliation. Poole contends he was terminated after about a year at the company because he raised concerns with how women employees were treated.
Poole on Tuesday recalled, “sitting in the room with the executives, and hearing all of the, the sexual jokes and innuendos and commentary, undermining the work and the advice and input that was coming from the female colleagues.”
Silverman resigned in 2021.
Disgenics issued a statement Tuesday to FOX 13 News.
“With regards to the Complaint filed in Utah federal court by Lara Silverman and Jeffrey Poole on May 23, it should be noted that these allegations were contained in separate charges of discrimination filed by Silverman and Poole last year.
“These charges were thoroughly investigated by the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division. In January 2022, the UALD found No Reasonable Cause to believe that Discgenics had discriminated or retaliated against either Poole or Silverman and dismissed each charge in its entirety, giving their
reasons in a detailed and thorough Determination and Order for each charge. Discgenics will vigorously fight these claims in court.”
UALD investigates discrimination in the workplace. A 2017 audit found it ruled in favor of the employee in less than 1% of cases.
“We believe the jury will award the amount that they are entitled to,” said Silverman and Poole’s attorney, Julia Elmaleh-Sachs.
She said that amount will be determined at trial.