Tuesday, October 6, 2009


by David McCarthy

There was a time when it was widely understood and accepted that tenure was conditioned on being published.

Interestingly, officials of the University of Wisconsin were sued for refusing (by a vote of 7 to 1) to grant tenure to an assistant professor of physical education who had published nothing. The contract of employment did not guarantee tenure, but only that plaintiff would be considered for tenure. The case was dismissed on dispositive pre-trial motions and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

Plaintiff brought a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that alleged sexual discrimination in the form of "associational discrimination."

It contended, in gist, that tenure had been denied to plaintiff because of her association with a male employee of the university who had earlier filed a sex discrimination claim (and who also cast the only vote in favor of granting tenure to plaintiff). The Title VI claim was found to be time barred.

A claim predicated on denial of equal protection failed for want of evidence that plaintiff had been treated differently from similarly situated candiates for tenure and for want of evidence that the individual defendants were motivated by an intent to discriminate against persons such as plaintiff.

Plaintiff asserted that she was a class of one, a heterosexual female professor who befriended a heterosexual male professor who filed a sex discrimination complaint. However, she did not carry her burden of establishing that the defendant's justification for discriminating against her was irrational and arbitrary.

Finally, the Court rejected a claim that denial of tenure carried a stigma so great that at two different performance reviews prior to the time when plaintiff came up for tenure, the Dean had told her that publishing would be a "critical factor" in the tenure decision.

After the litigation commenced and after the defendants filed their motion for summary judgment, the response of plaintiff flagrantly disregarded local rules pertaining to statements of fact and citations of law. The trial judge therefore disregarded a large part of plaintiff's opposition. Plaintiff charged the trial judge with abuse of discretion. The Court of Appeals rejected that contention.

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