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Published June 13, 2024

Judges rules for UMN; finds “troubled track record” on gender discrimination in SoM

In a recent lawsuit, the judge ruled in favor of UMN but found evidence of gender discrimination in the School of Music.
Image by Graphic by Ava Weinreis
A Hennepin County judge ruled on the case in May.

A judge found there may be evidence the University of Minnesota School of Music (SoM) had discriminatory hiring and promoting practices based on gender, but a decision not to promote Professor Karen Painter had not been discriminatory in a court order released on May 1.

The lawsuit concerned Painter’s attempt at promotion to full professor in 2018, in which she was ultimately not promoted. Painter alleged she was not promoted due to patterns of gender-based discrimination in the SoM. 

The ruling found even though Painter and her lawyers found enough evidence to allege gender discrimination, there was not evidence of discrimination in her case and in turn lacked sufficient evidence proving discrimination for the case to go to trial.

The final judgment was entered on May 22. Judge Francis Magill ruled a summary judgment against Painter’s in her lawsuit against the University. 

A summary judgment is the ruling on a lawsuit made only by the judge.  There is no jury trial.

Painter, a professor in musicology at the SoM, filed the lawsuit in 2021. She  alleged the decision not to promote her was due to gender discrimination and retaliation because she supported students to report instances of sexual misconduct and gender-based discrimination within the SoM to the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office (EOAA). 

Painter began working at the SoM as an associate professor in 2007 and was granted tenure in 2011.

The promotion committee did not recommend her promotion to full professor in 2018, stating that her publications did not yet meet the SoM’s standard for research. They also cited Painter had lower teaching evaluation scores and confusing feedback from students.

The committee voted 14-1 to not recommend Painter to full professor. Then Executive Vice President and Provost, Karen Hanson, formally denied Painter the promotion.

Responses to the ruling

According to Joseph L. Daly, emeritus law professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School, the promotion of professors is a subjective process where several different factors are taken into consideration.

“Basically the judge said, when you first look at the case it may look like gender discrimination, but upon deeper understanding, it’s a subjective thing,” Daly said. “And statistically, the faculty voted 14-1 against promoting her, and that usually means something.”

The SoM had a “troubled track record,” Magill wrote in the order, when it came to the hiring and promotion of women professors, with only seven women being hired or promoted to full professor in the thirty years leading up to this lawsuit. There are ten full male professors.

“The University of Minnesota is dedicated to the principles of equity in the workplace,” said the University in an email statement to the Minnesota Daily responding to the lawsuit. “We appreciate the Court’s ruling, which dismisses Professor Painter’s claims and finds that a trial is not warranted.”

Daly said while the judge ultimately ruled in the University’s favor, the University still has to deal with the evidence of gender-based discrimination.

“I think they’ll be pretty careful the next time a woman comes up for promotion because the statistics themselves look not good for the music department,” Daly said.

According to Daly, the promotion of professors is a subjective process where several different factors are taken into consideration.

Additionally, Daly said it was surprising the lawsuit was granted a summary judgment and no jury trial would be held since there seemed to be “some evidence that there was a case for gender discrimination.”

Painter said she is appealing the judge’s ruling.

“I am aware of students and faculty who faced discrimination and sexual harassment at the University and in the School of Music,” Painter said in a statement emailed to the Daily. “I believe that my lawsuit will help to correct these problems.” 

Despite Magill not ruling in her favor, Painter still sees the lawsuit as a win in the efforts to combat sexual harassment and discrimination within the SoM.

“We can and will change, and I am proud to have helped in that process,” Painter said.

Correction: The article has been updated to clarify who formally denied Painter the promotion. It was then Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson.

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