Suit claimsbias

by Kamariea Forcier

After two years of court delays, a jury heard opening arguments Tuesday in a gender discrimination case that two former professors filed against the University in U.S. District Court.
The former professors claim the College of Veterinary Medicine retaliated against them after one of them filed a grievance with the University’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
After the grievance was filed one professor was fired and the other was demoted; both believe the retaliation occurred because of their gender.
Eric Satre, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said “the glass ceiling had turned into cement” for his clients and for other women. The University’s attorney, Lorie Gildea, said University officials acted within their rights.
One of the plaintiffs, professor Shirley Johnston, was working in the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991 when she was appointed to a half-time position as associate dean for academic affairs in that school. That appointment made Johnston the first woman to hold a leadership position in the 40-year history of the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Because Johnston’s new schedule took her away from teaching, the department hired Dr. Patricia Olson, the other plaintiff, as a part-time professor.
In April 1991 the college began a national search for a department chair in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Olson was one of four final applicants who interviewed for the job. Another applicant was Jeffrey Klausner, who at the time was the interim chairman of the department. Both Klausner and Olson were highly qualified for the job, according to the federal civil complaint.
In January 1992, Dean David Thawley of the College of Veterinary Medicine hired Klausner for the job.
Olson said she believed she did not get the job because of her gender. According to the civil complaint, Olson had published more articles than Klausner and brought more grant money to the University.
Olson filed a claim of sex discrimination Feb. 14, 1992 with the University’s equal opportunity office. Johnston was Olson’s direct supervisor. Olson has said that she never told Johnston the complaint was filed.
Johnston received a letter from Thawley on Feb. 17 that criticized her work and stated she had publicly opposed his policies. Johnston had held her job for a year and had never before received a reprimand. Patrick Connor, the other attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a 1994 interview that Thawley was punishing Johnston for Olson’s complaint.
After exchanging several letters with Johnston, Thawley terminated her from her position as associate dean.
When Johnston was removed from her administrative duties, she went back to full-time teaching. And Olson was fired from the University.
At the University, men greatly outnumber women in leadership positions. Only one woman, Marilyn Rasmussen, a senior administrative director for the college, holds a leadership position at the College of Veterinary Medicine. About two-thirds of the school’s students are female.
Attorneys expect the trial to last two to three weeks. Testimony will resume today in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge David Doty.