The 48-year-old actress, who plays Meredith Grey on the series, explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter how Dempsey's departure from the medical drama was "a defining moment" in her landing a $20 million per year deal.
"For me, Patrick leaving the show was a defining moment, deal-wise," Pompeo said of Dempsey, who exited in 2015 after 11 seasons as Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd. "They could always use him as leverage against me -- 'We don't need you; we have Patrick' -- which they did for years."
"I don't know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that," she added. "At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey's Anatomy and I'm Meredith Grey. They wouldn't give it to me."
Pompeo said she stayed on Grey's Anatomy because she recognized her own value as Meredith, despite the network making her feel "conflicted" about her future with the series.
"It's my show; I'm the number one," she asserted. "I'm sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, 'I'm not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.'"
Pompeo signed a new, two-year deal with ABC Studios in late 2017 that will make her the highest-paid actress on a TV drama. She will earn more than $20 million per year: $575,000 per episode, along with a seven-figure signing bonus and two full backend equity points on the show.
"I just stay because it works for my lifestyle, and I get to be a mom to my kids, and [series creator] Shonda [Rhimes], like I said, has empowered me in a way where my role is much bigger than it was," the actress said in an interview with Deadline.
Grey's Anatomy is in its 14th season, and has yet to be renewed, although Pompeo committed to Seasons 15 and 16 in her new contract. The star told Deadline she and Rhimes "will decide when we end the show."