History Professor Sues University of Pennsylvania for Gender Discrimination

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| Source: Gallagher, Schoenfeld, Surkin, Chupein & DeMis

Former Assistant Professor of History Claims She Was Denied Tenure Due to Bias Against Mothers

Case Challenges Unspoken Secret of Academia

PHILADELPHIA, April 29, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Kristen S. Childers, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania from 2002-2010, is suing Penn for gender discrimination, saying she was unlawfully denied tenure because she took leave for childcare, even though it had been approved.

Childers believes this is a clear case of discrimination against women with caregiving responsibilities.

"This isn't just a tenure dispute. I had the expressed support of my department, the tenure committee, the School of Arts and Sciences Personnel Committee, and external evaluators. My qualifications were as good as, if not better than, other faculty members who were awarded tenure," Childers said.

She continued, "I have been discriminated against as a mother, despite the fact that my family responsibilities had no negative impact on my teaching performance, scholarly productivity or service to the University."

According to the facts of the case, while Childers' promotion was supported by each committee vote along the way, the Provost denied her tenure in May 2010 and her employment was terminated as a result. The decision to go against the other reviewers is extremely rare, yet the Provost offered no explanation for the outcome.

Childers' attorney, Ron Surkin of Gallagher Schoenfeld Surkin Chupein & DeMis said, "The absence of an explanation for the tenure denial, along with enthusiastic recommendations from experts in her field, suggest that Dr. Childers is a victim of bias against mothers. Even though her leave was University-approved, she was marked as a woman who did not put a priority on her career."

After Childers filed an internal grievance, Penn disqualified the only female professor selected to sit on the grievance panel. "Can you imagine Penn trying this tactic with any other type of discrimination claim?" Surkin asked.

Faculty members are typically eligible for tenure in their 30s, which is when childbirth and family-care issues are prominent for women. Surkin noted that Penn's Gender Equity Report documents a sharp drop-off in the numbers of women faculty who are promoted to the ranks of tenure, with evidence that gender bias against mothers is the cause.

"I don't want special treatment, just equitable treatment," Childers said. "It seems inconceivable to me that a University advertising itself as being family-friendly and sensitive to women's issues would discriminate in this way."

Kristen Childers Tenure Discrimination at University of Pennsylvania Timeline is available upon request.

Nicole Lasorda
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