Gender equitylawsuit ends,U is cleared

by Kamariea Forcier

Dr. Patricia Olson and Dr. Shirley Johnston sat in stony silence Monday as U.S. District Judge David Doty read a jury’s decision that the University was not guilty of gender discrimination.
After three weeks of testimony, the eight-member jury did not find sufficient evidence that Olson and Johnston had been discriminated and retaliated against because of their sex.
The case stems from a complaint that in 1992 Olson was not hired for a position as chair of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences within the College of Veterinary Medicine. Olson, who was a part-time professor, claimed that she was more qualified for the chair position, which was given to a male candidate.
After filing her complaint in February, Olson asked for the support of her friend and supervisor, Johnston, who was then associate dean of the college. Johnston claims that she was fired from her position as associate dean within three months of Olson’s complaint. After Johnston was demoted, she returned to full-time teaching and Olson was fired from her position.
Johnston claims she suffered retaliation from David Thawley, the dean of the college, during the next four years until she quit the department in June of 1996. She claimed the retaliation included a reduction in the size of her research lab.
The courtroom was silent as the eight-member jury returned the not-guilty verdict. After the jury was dismissed, Thawley’s friends and family smiled and hugged each other inside the courtroom. Outside in the hallway, the hugs between the plaintiffs and their supporters were more consoling than cheerful.
Helen Thawley, David Thawley’s wife, smiled and looked relieved after the jury announced its decision.
“Thank goodness,” she said. “Now the healing at the University of Minnesota can begin.” David Thawley echoed her sentiments.
“I feel relieved it’s all over, after the long ordeal,” he said. “I’m thankful to the jury. Now it’s time to look forward to the future of the college.”
Eric Satre, one of the attorneys for Olson and Johnston, said he intends to appeal the decision within the next 10 days.
Satre said he was disappointed with the jury’s decision, but wasn’t involved in the case strictly for the verdict.
“Olson and Johnston were involved in this case in part for other women leaders down the road, and in part to be able to look their daughters and sons in the eye when they talk about equal opportunity,” Satre said.
Olson, who returned to her job in Colorado after the verdict, said she is still hopeful that the University will change its hiring practices to encourage more women and minorities in leadership opportunities.
And if the case is appealed, Olson said she and Johnston would “be there, fighting for the future of women and minority leaders.”