Well, in my tenure-track faculty position at New York University last year, I
asked for six weeks paid maternity leave and six weeks unpaid leave. First I
asked verbally, then two weeks later, I put it in writing.
The day after I asked for the leave in writing, I was terminated with no reason
given (hint: when no reason is given in a termination, you can bet your ass the
reason not given is damn illegal!). No performance review was conducted, as
required when tenure-track faculty members are not being reappointed, according
to the NYU Faculty Handbook.
I was the only female faculty member in the history of the department, and the
department (Earth System Science, formerly Applied Science) had NEVER graduated
a woman with her Ph.D.
Of course two different faculty members in the department (of seven full-time
members) had made comments about how women working outside the home was bad for
their children, how this was the cause of increased juvenile delinquincy and
decreased performance in school, etc. (I had jotted down the substance of their
comments, complete with dates and context. My lawyer has congratulated me on my
What really surprized me, though, was the female dean of the college, ALICE HUANG,
sent and signed the letter informing me that I would not be reappointed. I informed
her, in writing, that this landed right at the beginning of my requested leave and
that, in fact, this violated the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. She refused
to speak to me, but had her aide call me to tell me that I would not have my medical
insurance extended beyond my termination date.
The NYU written maternity leave policy for secretaries and administrators who are being
terminated during maternity leave (which they explained to me at the benefits office
as though it was a normal and legal thing to do, terminating a woman during her maternity
leave...) normally have their medical benefits extended up to six weeks beyond their
termination date. However, in my case, because I was tenure-track faculty, all maternity
leave was "up to the discretion of the dean", and DEAN ALICE HUANG had decided NOT to even
give me the medical coverage extension normally given to secretaries!
Because the lease on my apartment in an NYU building was contingent upon my continued
employment at the University, I was also looking at being thrown out of my home onto
the street as well as being fired from my job and having my medical benefits pulled
RIGHT WHEN MY BABY WAS DUE.
In the process of getting a lawyer, filing grievances, and gathering all of the documentation
I had prepared, I miscarried at four months. This meant being rushed to the hospital at
6 in the morning and having the wonderful experience of looking at my dead baby on the
ultrasound screen. No heart beating, no little arms moving, no fluttering in my stomach.
Just dead disaggregated meat. They said the miscarriage was probably caused by STRESS.
At a meeting just before my first grievance hearing, Dean Alice Huang insinuated
nastily that I had never been pregnant. Luckily, I got her on tape saying this.
Of course, I'm suing NYU. My causes for action are violation of the Family and
Medical Leave act of 1993, the Pregnancy Discrimination act of 1978, Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1963, Sexual Harassment, Breach of Contract and Illegal
Retaliation for Opposition to an Unlawful Practice. I could sue Dean Alice Huang
personally as well as the former chairman of the Earth System Science Department.
All this happened January-March. They decided in *July* to "disband the department,"
by absorbing Earth System Science into Dean Alice Huang's home department, i.e. Biology.
They're reappointing all of the male faculty, and keeping all of the programs, including
the course I had been teaching. They think this gets them off the hook for everything.
They can tell it to the judge. "disbanding the department" is clearly a shell-game pretext
invented after the fact.
My lawyer is eagerly looking forward to cross-examining Dean Alice Huang in court.
Oh, and guess who's wife Dean Alice Huang is. DAVID BALTIMORE. If you want to know
who he is, ask Margot O'Toole.
What am I doing to support myself in the meantime?
I transferred my NASA grant to the Santa Fe Institute, which is how I'm supporting
myself now. I have soft money until next May at which point, I'll be going to
a 5-year contract research job in Sweden.
===================== end of my story ===========================
Comments on the other stories:
To tell you the truth, I'm a little dismayed when women say that they've volunarily
moved to soft-money positions from faculty positions after having a baby, or are
volunarily putting themselves on "the mommy track" in their post-docs, and have
postponed child-bearing until it was almost too late.
Rather than trying to AVOID being treated like I was by being chicken to have kids,
taking the demotion, taking the termination lying down, why not just go ahead and
have the kids, and then sue your bastard employer if he or she starts in with the
sexist shit? Just carry a tape recorder and keep a journal. You might want to
preserve your belief that they're really very fair people, untested. But if you
have a kid, they have to put up or shut up. They have to DEMONSTRATE their fairness.
Chances are they won't, no matter how much liberal rhetoric they've spouted before.
I mean, if they're going to force you to take a demotion or a cut in pay or change
jobs ANYWAY when you have kids, you may as well stand your ground until they FORCE
you, at which point you have real legal recourse.
The only reason NOT to do it is fear of being labelled a "troublemaker," but if we
let them keep getting away with this, we're just making it worse for every other
woman. If we capitulate before it even becomes an issue, we're just reinforcing the
atmosphere of professional terror women scientists are forced to work in.
Do they lay this crap on men having children? NO. Why should WE have our families
and do our work at the bottom of this crap, huh? Because we're SCARED? What integrity!
What courage! WOW, I'm really impressed. No wonder they don't send us to war! We can't
even protect our legal rights in our own lives, much less fight for peace and justice
overseas. It's really pathetic. It's pathetic that female graduate students, post-docs
and faculty have worse health benefits and maternity leave policies than any secretary
with a high-school education. It's just evidence of what spineless, scared little
brown-noses we really are if we're even afraid to ask for THAT.
Following is a list of organizations that can help you learn how to stand up
for your legal rights.
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
99 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10013
Provides "Legal Aid Packages" which will inform you of the legal precedents
as well as the letter of the law which universities are bound by.
National Employment Lawyers Association Referral Service
880 3rd Ave. 13th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Provides referrals for lawyers specializing in employment law. Recommended by NOW.
Women's Legal Defense Fund
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington DC 20009
National Women's Law Center
1616 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20036
WLDF and NWLC put together and lobbied for, among other things, the Family and
Medical Leave Act. They can provide literature on women in the workplace in
American Association of University Women
111 16th St. NW.
Washington DC 20036
FAX: (202) 872-1425
Martha Lukham, manager of AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund
Caroline Head, AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund
The AAUW has not heard much from women in science, because there are so few
of us. They're actually at the point of wondering why that might be so, and
have a number of graduate fellowships, travel grants and awards for women
Robert Kreiser, Equal Opportunity Investigator
American Association of University Professors
AAUP 1012 14th St. NW
Washington DC 20005
AAUP is the closest thing that Faculty have to a union. NYU leads their
list of censured institutions for violations of contract, tenure and
American Psychological Association
Committee on Legal Affairs inc. EEOC Judge
Donna Beavers, Legal Affairs Office
Beavers can send key amicus briefs submitted by APA on the Harris vs. Forklift
Systems case and the Hopkins vs. Price-Waterhouse case, plus other materials.
These were famous sex discrminiation and harassment suits, won at the Supreme
Court level, where the APA's amicus briefs were key in winning the cases for
Note New Address for SFI:
Santa Fe Institute