Former vice president takes stand in gender equity suit

Kamariea Forcier

Tensions soared in U.S. District Judge David Doty’s courtroom as the University called its first witnesses in a gender discrimination suit filed by two former employees.
Cherie Perlmutter, former interim vice president for health sciences, took the stand to answer questions about alleged discrimination in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Perlmutter was acting vice president during the time Dean David Thawley demoted Dr. Shirley Johnston from her position as associate dean of the college and fired Dr. Patricia Olson.
Olson said she was fired after filing a complaint with the University claiming she was not hired as a department chair in the College of Veterinary Medicine because she is a woman. But Perlmutter disagreed with the complaint, saying that Jeffrey Klausner, who was hired for the job, was better qualified.
With shoulders raised and face muscles tight, Perlmutter said, “Dr. Klausner had more experience in a leadership role.”
Pat Connor, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, spent more than an hour questioning Perlmutter on the leadership strengths of Olson and Klausner.
University officials have testified Klausner was favored instead of Olson because of his experience as interim department chair while the search for a permanent head was conducted.
When asked about Olson’s leadership experience heading a veterinary clinic with her husband, Perlmutter responded with a crisp answer: “Running a clinic is not the same as running a department in an academic institution.”
But Perlmutter’s tone softened when talking about her meetings with Thawley.
Perlmutter said that Thawley informed her of his concerns about Johnston’s performance as associate dean. Perlmutter said that she advised Thawley to put the complaints in writing.
After a series of letters between Johnston and Thawley, Johnston was told the contract for her position as associate dean would not be renewed. Johnston claims her contract was not renewed because of Olson’s complaint against the University. Johnston hired Olson to take over half her teaching load while she served as associate dean.
Perlmutter testified that when talking with Thawley about Johnston’s employment, she “listened carefully” for signs of discrimination.
Connor looked directly at Perlmutter and asked, “Why was that?”
After a slight pause, she replied, “Well, I was concerned.” Then she rapidly added she never detected a note of discrimination in Thawley’s conversations.
“If Dr. Thawley had discriminated against these women,” she said, “he would not have continued to be dean.”
Perlmutter, who supported Johnston’s promotion to full tenured professor, said the same woman was “destructive” to the College of Veterinary Medicine as an associate dean.
The 10th day of testimony will continue today as the defense calls its witnesses to the stand. Thawley is expected to take the stand in the afternoon.