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Sex discrimination ruling upheld by federal appeals court

Mon Jul 18 17:34:51 EST 1994

July 11, 1994 the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals (St Louis, MO) upheld
the jury verdict of June 1993, that the University of Missouri was
guilty of sex discrimination in the case captioned Mary L. Polacco v
The Curators of the University of Missouri. While there was a
triggering incident, required by law to be within 6 months of formal,
legal complaining and also, within 6 months of the time that you are
still paid by the employer, the case was also about a longstanding
policy of exploitation of captive female spouses, in the background of
an institution where the numbers of tenured women remain low, but the
numbers of non-tenure tracking, faculty women are high. Looking at the
past 2 decades, at the Columbia, MO campus only, depending on the year,
40-60% of the non-tenure tracking faculty (instructor, assistant
professor, associate professor, full professor) were women; the total
number of this group (both male and female), once relatively low, NOW
approaches 50% of the tenured faculty!  And some persons wonder where
the women are?

While the trial was long, arduous and the process incredibly painful
and draining, I am rather delighted at the outcome. During the process,
it helped to reflect:

 o that neither of my grandmothers was permitted, by law to vote until
   their 28th and 30th birthdays,

 o that it took a lot of hard work, notwithstanding any
   sneering or jeering (the pre-flaming era), over many decades to
   wrest the right to vote from the powers-that-be,

 o that 100 years from now, sex discrimination in employment might not be
   passe if we all play ostrich rather than take a strong 


...Here, Polacco presented evidence that, as the wife of another
faculty member, she was consistently treated as a second-class citizen
in the University's department of Biochemistry. Viewed in this context,
the jury reasonably could have concluded that the termination of her
funding in 1990 was the product of a culture of sex discrimination...

...When the sum of evidence is sufficient to support a finding of
employment discrimination, as it was here, we are unwilling to
second-guess the factfinder's <<the jury>> judgment...

...At the jury trial, Polacco presented evidence that she was a
well-qualified and capable research porfessor who was nonetheless
placed in a non-regular faculty position which the University refused
to convert to tenure track. Comparable male faculty members received
fifty percent more pay until Polacco complained in 1989.  The following
academic year, while she was completing a funded research leave in
Massachusetts, Folk <<dept chair>>> advised Polacco that the University
would no longer pay any part of her salary... In its defense, the
University presented testimony that budget cuts forced the elimination
of funded faculty positions and that Polacco lost her funding because
she failed to obtain new outside grants, indicating a lack of
productive research.  However, the jury also heard evidence that these
stated reasons were pretextual. For example, Folk admitted that, when
Polacco's funding was terminated, the Biochemistry Department offered
$20,000 from the same budget to a prospective male professor but did
not reallocate those funds to Polacco when this candidate declined the
offer. There was also evidence that Polacco's grants exceeded the
average generated by Department of Biochemistry faculty over a
reasonable period, and that "dry spells" are normal in the highly
competitive grant process.

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