Women get OK to sue university for sex bias

Associated Press

SEATTLE — A state court has cleared the way for hundreds or even thousands of women faculty members to sue the University of Washington on grounds it pays women less and is less likely to promote them.

King County Superior Court Judge Glenna Hall certified the class-action lawsuit Friday. It could include as many as 3,000 women faculty members, including some at the Bothell campus.

Courts have rarely allowed class actions in faculty discrimination cases because promotion and pay practices can differ widely among a university departments.

"The scope and size of this could be a watershed in terms of being the impetus other universities need to start addressing these issues," said Catherine Didion, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Women in Science.

The complaint charges that discrimination against women is rampant at the university. It quotes a 1997 UW report that says white women professors earned nearly 19 percent less than men while Asian women earned 27 percent less.

The report also found that only one in four professors on a track to receive tenure were women, while 60 percent of nontenure-track professors were women. Tenured professors have better job security and earn the highest salaries.

The lawsuit seeks an end to the alleged discriminatory practices and compensation for those affected.

But the UW says women earn less in some departments and more in others.

The judge’s order says all women faculty hired after Aug. 18, 1994, at the university’s Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses can participate in the lawsuit, including women faculty at the medical school.

The university employs about 1,200 women faculty members, said Steve Berman, the plaintiffs’ attorney. He expects the action could have as many as 3,000 litigants.

The university might appeal the judge’s decision, said its attorney, Michael Madden. The case is set for trial on Jan. 14, 2002.

The suit was filed by Dolphine Oda, a professor of oral pathology in the School of Dentistry. Darunee NaBadalung, Rigmor Persson, Ginger Powell and Hester Rumberg, all dentistry-school faculty members, joined later.

Oda, a mother of two who has worked at the university since 1985, said she was paid less than male colleagues despite accomplishments that included publishing in more than 55 medical journals and receiving 14 distinguished-teaching awards.

Oda said she was persecuted and humiliated for bringing up gender inequities to the dean of the school.

The American Association of University Professors reports that a salary survey last year showed that, among full professors at public universities, men earned 12 percent more than women.

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