In the case of Lee v. Vanderbilt Univ., 6th Cir., No. 22-5607 (June 22, 2023), a federal appellate court held that the case could go forward in litigation when the professor alleged that (1) men and women were treated differently within the university and (2) the department chair and the dean harbored resentment against the professor for a grievance the professor previously filed.
In this case, the professor argued that (1) despite a unanimous recommendation for the professor to be given tenure, the university denied the application, which followed a pattern where male employees were often given tenure, while female employees were not and (2) the reason for a non-unanimous recommendation for tenure despite a stronger application three years later was due to retaliation by the department chair and dean in regards to the professor’s gender discrimination grievance. In response, the university argued that (1) the professor did not allege that the university generally treated men better than women and (2) the filing of the grievance and the denial of promotion and tenure were too far removed temporally to be considered retaliation. The federal appellate court agreed with the professor.
In the lead opinion in support of its decision in favor of the professor on the gender discrimination claim, the federal appellate court explained that the claim that eight out of ten male “spousal hires” received tenure, while only one out of five female “spousal hires” were given tenure, the facts that were alleged in the complaint were sufficient to rise to the level of plausibility.
In the lead opinion in support of its decision in favor of the professor on the retaliation claim, the federal appellate court explained that, while there may be a large gap in time between the grievance and the adverse employment action, there are sufficient facts in the complaint to allow the court to infer a causal connection between the two events.
In the dissenting opinion, the federal appellate court explained that simply comparing the male “spousal hires” to the female “spousal hires” does not show a singular male professor who was similar to the female professor in the relevant aspects but was treated differently. The dissent further explained that the complaint simply alleged that the dean knew of the previously filed grievance but did not show any causal connection between the grievance and the adverse employment action.
To read this case, click here.
NOTE: This opinion was based procedurally on a motion to dismiss. The final outcome of this case may be drastically different.
Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.
Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.