发信人: rogue1 (MT Sinai School of Medicine), 信区: Faculty
标 题: Winning Tenure, in Court (ZZ)
发信站: BBS 未名空间站 (Sat Feb 8 09:43:23 2020, 美东)
California appeals court sides with professor in tenure-denial case,
agreeing that San Francisco State retaliated against her for speaking out
about bullying and possible discrimination.
By Colleen Flaherty
September 30, 2019
A California appeals court last week upheld a jury’s earlier verdict that
San Francisco State University retaliated against a professor in denying her
tenure after she complained about the climate for minority women.
The First District Court of Appeal ruled, 3 to 0, that the university owes
Rashmi Gupta, professor of social work at San Francisco State, $378,000 in
damages and $587,000 for attorneys’ fees and court costs.
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The case is significant because professors don't often sue over tenure
denials, even when they think they've been wronged. And even when they do
sue, courts typically defer to colleges because tenure cases tend to be so
complex. But Gupta's evidence of retaliation by one administrator in
particular, supported by witness testimony, is compelling. The case also
turns -- to a surprising degree, given that so many experts say they shouldn
't be used in high-stakes personnel decisions -- on student evaluations of
Teaching Troubles -- at First
According to court records, Gupta, who is from India, was hired on to San
Francisco State’s tenure track in 2006. She received lower-than-average
student evaluations of teaching effectiveness during her first three
semesters. A second-year departmental review reads, “Dr. Gupta’s lower [
evaluation] scores may be attributed, in part, to the standards and
expectations she sets for students. She gives students substantial
assignments and demands results … One must commend her for holding firmly
to the principles and standards she establishes for all courses, even if
students complain about the rigors she presents.”
The same review praises Gupta for being “a valued contributing member of
the social work faculty,” who is “actively engaged in research,
scholarship, and publication.” It is also describes her as jumping in to
service, despite her newness on campus.
In her third year, according to court records, Gupta adjusted her teaching
style and received positive reviews from her three faculty peer evaluators.
Her student ratings also began to improve.
In late 2009, Gupta and several other women of color in the School of Social
Work wrote a letter to Sue Roster, the provost, to request a meeting about
what they called abuses of “power and authority, excessive micromanagement,
bullying and the creation of a hostile work environment.”
At the eventual meeting, Gupta and her colleagues told several
administrators -- including Don Taylor, then the dean of the College of
Health and Social Sciences -- that they were most concerned about the
director of the School of Social Work at the time, Rita Takahashi. The
professors also expressed general concerns about the climate for people of
color on campus.
The university says it is considering its legal options going forward.
Taylor, who is now an emeritus faculty member, did not respond to a request
Gupta says she was instructed to work out her various concerns with
Takahashi and request another meeting with Taylor if her efforts were
Just weeks later, in early 2010, Gupta received a fourth-year review that
was critical not just of her teaching -- which had been improving, based on
her third-year review -- but also, for the first time, of her research and
service. Gupta says the review cited alleged problems with her syllabi,
which were later proven inaccurate. And the review also mentioned in passing
her student ratings, which were by then above the department average.
Soon, Gupta sent emails to a colleague complaining that her workplace was
hostile to women of color and that both Taylor and Takahashi were
responsible for the environment.
At another meeting a short time later, between Taylor and the School of
Social Work faculty, Taylor publicly called Gupta out. “I know about [the
emails]” and “I’m going to get even with you,” he allegedly said. One
professor who was at the meeting also testified that Taylor was “red in the
face” and pointing at Gupta as he chided her. There are “consequences”
to “those sort of conversations,” Taylor also allegedly said.
The next year, Gupta’s fifth on campus, she applied for tenure early. She
was endorsed by her department’s tenure committee, the campuswide committee
and the interim director of the School of Social Work. But Taylor
recommended against Gupta’s early tenure, arguing that she had not
demonstrated “sustained progress” in teaching, research and service, court
Gupta filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
identifying Taylor by name and filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the
university denied her early tenure as a result of discrimination and
She also filed an internal grievance. The matter went to arbitration, with
the arbitrator recommending that Gupta go up again for tenure the next year.
Gupta then voluntarily withdrew her lawsuit.
In her sixth year, Gupta’s student ratings of teaching were good, with many
praising her for her high standards, helpfulness and organization.
Her departmental tenure committee described her scholarship -- 12 peer-
reviewed articles, co-written book chapters and 30 conference papers -- as
“most impressive” and “reflective of a breadth of thinking, ability and
talent.” The campuswide tenure committee also supported her bid, as did the
interim director of the social work school, Eileen Levy.
Levy testified at the trial that Taylor was unhappy with her for her support
of Gupta, and that he’d said he “didn’t like [her] attitude” and “
really didn’t want people in the School of Social Work who were going to
make the school look bad.” Levy also said that Taylor had previously
accused her of “betraying” the university for pointing out that there were
issues in the school regarding tenure and promotion of women of color.
Taylor again recommended against Gupta’s tenure, comparing her student
ratings to the college average -- not the departmental average, as usual.
Gupta grieved the denial and submitted additional portfolio materials for
review. But Taylor still recommended against tenure, and the provost and
president sided with him. Gupta was terminated in 2014.
Building Her Case
The year after Gupta was denied tenure, according to court records, another
unnamed professor of social work was tenured -- despite having lower student
ratings and significantly fewer publications than Gupta.
In 2015, Gupta received a right-to-sue letter from the California Department
of Fair Employment and Housing. The case went to trial, in 2017, with the
jury siding against Gupta on a discrimination claim but siding with her on
her retaliation claim. It awarded her $378,461 in damages, reflecting $15,
600 in future noneconomic damages and $362,861 in past and future economic
Gupta soon filed a motion for reinstatement and promotion to full professor.
The university opposed the motion on various grounds, including the lack of
an available position. The trial court denied reinstatement at the time but
required San Francisco State to periodically report on available faculty
Gupta was eventually reinstated, but only after she pushed the university
for further penalties when it said it had no jobs available, according to
the San Francisco Chronicle. Of last week's decision, Gupta’s lawyer, Aaron
Gorfein, said, “We’re happy she was restored to her teaching position as
an internationally respected scholar in the field of social work.”
In her opinion for the three-judge panel, Associate Justice Ioana Petrou
cited comparator professor evidence. For example, she said Gupta showed that
Taylor had compared her student rating scores to the collegewide average,
but used the departmental average when evaluating the unnamed professor of
social work who was tenured later.
Taylor also took into account the difficulty level of the unnamed professors
’ courses, saying in his recommendation that three of the six classes in
which students rated that professor well below the departmental mean were in
“undergraduate and graduate research methods classes which are often
considered to be difficult classes to teach because of preconceived fears
students have about research.” Taylor did not do the same for Gupta.
Similarly, with regard to research, Taylor made accommodations for the
unnamed professor that he did not make for Gupta. That professor received an
extra year to publish two papers to supplement her research, for example,
and Taylor even called the editors of the journals to which the professor
submitted her articles press them on making an acceptance decision. Even
after the extra year, the unnamed professor did not meet the departmental
tenure requirement of six peer-reviewed papers. But she was still granted
In its appeal of the verdict, the university argued that Gupta should have
been required to establish that her credentials were “clearly superior” to
the other professor before comparator evidence was allowed.
Petrou said that it is, however, legally “well settled that for comparator
evidence to be probative, and therefore admissible at trial, all that is
required is for the comparator, who was treated more favorably, to be ‘
similarly situated’ to the plaintiff ‘in all relevant respects.’”
San Francisco State maintains that the case "concerns an important question
of law regarding whether in an education setting the standard that applies
to the use of comparator evidence in discrimination claims should also apply
to the use of such evidence in retaliation claims." Logically, it said in a
statement, "we believe that it should and that the judgment obtained
without that standard should have been reversed."
The university added that it's disappointed with the recent decision but
also said it already reinstated Gupta, "at her request, once a position
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