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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Xavier University Sex-Bias Lawsuit: 2 Fired Female Profs Win 1st Round v. Catholic School

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- This is another major news story that suffers lack of attention in Cincinnati's corporate media. U.S. District Judge Sandra S. Beckwith issued a 28-page ruling last week that rejected Xavier University's efforts to dismiss claims that women faculty members face illegal sex discrimination. She ruled there is some evidence of women receiving lesser pay than men on the Jesuit campus in Cincinnati -- a jury will sort out the facts later this year. Miriam Finch and Tara Michaels were tenured professors in the Communications Arts Department. They were terminated at the end of the 2008-09 academic year after internal faculty disputes, including allegations of dereliction "in carrying out their ethical responsibilities to the University." In refusing to dismiss, Judge Beckwith said: ". . . there is at least some evidence which would support a finding that Plaintiffs' conduct was not the true reason for their termination. For instance, the fact that none of the members of the Faculty Hearing Committee could pinpoint a specific incident in which Plaintiffs were guilty of gross dereliction of duty suggests that the committee's assessment of their conduct was highly subjective." Judge Beckwith scheduled an October trial in Cincinnati federal court on charges the women professors were subjected to age and gender discrimination, retaliation, and violations of the Equal Pay Act. Finch and Michaels contend they were forced out because they complained about disparities; the university describes them as people who could not get along with colleagues.

Judge Beckwith said Xavier's Communications Arts Department was plagued with faculty disputes an infighting:

"This case arises from or at least coincides with the appointment of Professor Indira DeSilva to the position of chair of the Communications Art Department in 2003. The record fairly reflects that the Communications Arts Department was factionalized and beset by in-fighting among its faculty. The lack of collegiality among the staff is a central issue in this because because Xavier claims that [the fired professors] were jointly responsible for the dysfunctional atmosphere in the department and that is the reason they were eventually dismissed. Plaintiffs deny that they were the source of the dysfunction but nevertheless contend that the Communications Arts Department was no different from other departments, such as the Marketing Department, which supposedly had a reputation for demonstrative disagreements among its faculty . . .

"Plaintiffs filed formal discrimination complaints against DeSilva with the University in February 2007. The continuing conflict within the Communications Arts Department and counter-charges of discrimination between Plaintiffs and DeSilva led . . . to . . . an ad hoc committee comprised of several Xavier faculty members and a professor from the staff of Northern Kentucky University to investigate the inner workings of the entire department. Plaintiffs, however, contend, that the ad hoc committee was not formed to investigate the department or their discrimination complaints. Rather, Plaintiffs alleged that the ad hoc committee was formed to investigate them in retaliation for their complaints against DeSilva. The ad hoc committee not only determined that DeSilva did not discriminate against Plaintiffs, it recommended that the University should institute formal termination proceedings against them for gross dereliction in carrying out their ethical responsibilities to the University."

The Case No. is 1:07-cv-00987, Miriam Finch et al v. Xavier University et al, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Xavier is represented by Peter Cassaday, Kristen Marie Myers and Brian Redden of the law firm Beckman, Weil, Shepardson & Faller LLC. The terminated professors are represented by Robert Gutzwiller and Joseph Krause, of Clodfelter & Gutzwiller.


  1. This is very interesting news. I will be interested to see how this plays out.

  2. Settlement got to be a strong possibility. Long trial would be expensive for both sides. Pre-trial depos exhaustive and exhausting. Eat up lots of time for Xavier faculty and admin.

  3. If the XU case goes to trial, it will be messy and probably nasty. Seemingly innocent remarks will take on malign implications. Personal differences will become vendettas. The toxin will spread beyond the Communications Department in ways the litigants cannot imagine. XU shouldn’t be surprised if its faculty divides and students take notice to the school’s detriment.
    The most prominent case of its kind in Cincinnati involved Assistant Professor Kathryn Gutzwiller’s fight against denial of promotion and tenure in the UC classics department. It went beyond rejection and her desire for a job. UC’s classics department is uncommonly rich, based on ancient grants, and its library was vital to the career she was pursuing; she wanted to study and teach here.
    Gutzwiller eventually won and won big, demonstrating at the least that she was treated differently and worse. than male colleagues. Along the way, the male-dominated department’s traditions and practices were exposed to their detriment and the two key faculty members’ integrity was challenged. They said their efforts to encourage and support her eligibility for tenure and promotion were misconstrued. For instance, Gutzwiller was told she should have a second book ready for publication; one usually is enough and there was testimony that at least one tenured faculty colleague never published a book. Contrary to tradition in the college of arts and sciences, the department went outside Gutzwiller’s offered list of references for a hostile, outside scholar whose work she had publicly criticized. That wasn’t the only problem with due process - UC’s rules for tenure and promotion - and the trial was so bitter than the case was transferred to another judge after the initial verdicts. That judge, in Columbus, said he didn’t care whether Gutzwiller won promotion and tenure, but UC must redo the whole process and stick to its own rules this time. Otherwise, contempt of federal court was a likely outcome. Gutzwiller won tenure and promotion to associate professor. Today, she is a full professor.