Fired female executive accuses Optum of gender discrimination, ignoring abusive treatment

Optum Headquarters
A former executive at Optum-owned ProHealth claims the company ignored complaints about the new COO. (UnitedHealth Group)

A rising female executive at an Optum subsidiary has accused the company of gender discrimination, alleging she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a “chauvinistic and misogynistic” male executive who routinely berated her.

In a complaint (PDF) filed Monday in a New York district court, Tiziana Cacace, the former vice president of operations and strategic development at ProHealth, a multispecialty practice acquired by Optum in 2014, alleged she was promised a promotion as the group’s chief operating officer, but was usurped by another Optum executive, Dennis Fine.

ProHealth currently has more than 300 practices across New York and generates $600 million in annual revenue. The complaint states that Fine was hired by OptumHealth CEO Andrew Hayek initially as an adviser, but he slowly took on more of Cacace’s duties and was appointed COO months later.

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Cacace says she was subsequently fired in November by the UnitedHealth subsidiary after she went on medical leave to seek treatment “to address the recurrent and severe panic attacks” from Fine’s actions and the company’s refusal to take corrective measures.

Fine, according to Cacace, treated her and other female executives “in a disrespectful and abusive manner” and “expressed blatantly discriminatory views about the sexual orientation and age of existing and prospective employees.” An administrative assistant also filed a sexual harassment complaint against Fine with Optum’s human resources department and later resigned after he “asked her if he should start peeling off his clothes now” as she was sitting with lunch money on her desk.

The suit claims Fine was also “blatantly discriminatory” towards older and LGBT employees and made “a derogatory comment about Jews.”

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Complaints made to Optum by Cacace and ProHealth's former CEO David Cooper “fell on deaf ears,” according to the complaint. Cacace said she is “among several other female executives at ProHealth” who have faced discrimination by Fine.

“Simply put, after dedicating over a decade of her career to ProHealth, and on the precipice of becoming the COO of one of the largest medical providers in the Northeast, Ms. Cacace had the door to her future at ProHealth slammed in her face by a chauvinistic and misogynistic male executive,” the complaint states.

Cacace is requesting damages to compensate her for monetary losses and emotional distress.

“As alleged in the complaint, it is disappointing to see that hard-working, talented and qualified female executives are brushed aside in favor of misogynistic male executives,” Cacace’s attorneys Jeanne M. Christensen, a partner at Wigdor LLP, and Bryan L. Arbeit, a senior associate said in a joint statement. “Optum and other employers must be held accountable for the type of reprehensible conduct alleged in the complaint. We look forward to vindicating Ms. Cacace’s rights.”

Optum spokesperson Lauren Mihajlov said in a statement that the lawsuit is without merit.

“ProHealth New York provides outstanding patient care, and we have made leadership and staffing changes to the business that will ensure our clinicians get the support they need to keep ProHealth at the forefront of local care," she said. "ProHealth and Optum are committed to maintaining a workplace free of unlawful harassment and discrimination."