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Woman sues university for gender discrimination

Claiming both racial and gender discrimination, a former research scientist at Carnegie Mellon filed a federal lawsuit against the University on August 28.

Joann Paul, who was hired in the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department in 1997, argues she was discriminated against and denied promotions because she is an American-born white woman.
In addition to Carnegie Mellon, Paul’s suit names Pradeep Khosla, dean of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and Vijayakumar Bhagavatula, acting ECE department head, as defendants.

Paul’s suit invokes Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which provides protection against gender discrimination.

The complaint notes that, when she was hired in 1997, Paul was the only female faculty member in the ECE department. The following year, a non-tenured ECE faculty member made a “demeaning gender-oriented comment about [Paul’s] prospects at CMU.” Following her report of the comment, Paul was “shunned” by colleagues in the Center for Silicon System Implementation (CSSI) and excluded from meetings with potential research sponsors, according to the suit.

The suit names Larry Pileggi, head of CSSI and faculty member in the ECE department, as particularly biased. “Pileggi was prejudiced against Paul due to her gender and due to the fact that she was a U.S.-born, white female,” the complaint states.

Paul was promoted to a non-tenure-track faculty position as a research scientist in 2000. In this position, the complaint states, Paul was expected to secure grants and other research funding. According to the lawsuit, she received no support from other ECE faculty, including Khosla, who promoted and funded the research of other faculty while excluding Paul.

Paul states that despite exclusion, she was able to obtain $3 million in grants and to receive awards for her teaching.

The suit cites specific grievances against Paul by Khosla, and states that Khosla “was known to harbor misogynous views and known to treat female staff, all of U.S. origin, in a demeaning and dismissive fashion.”

After Khosla had obtained a significant amount of money for the ECE department’s “Cylab” activity, he directed grants to ECE research faculty members who were male or female (of foreign origin).
Paul’s complaint also mentions specific injustices by Bhagavatula.

In fall 2004, Paul sought promotion as an associate research professor. Her suit claims that during the application process, Bhagavatula withheld information regarding a late recommendation letter written in Paul’s favor and then urged her to withdraw her promotion application. The vote taken for the promotion resulted in an even split.

Paul claims Bhagavatula then discouraged her from seeking promotion again.

“There was a fundamental disdain for women, and particularly women of American descent, in the higher echelons of the ECE Department,” the complaint states. “Individuals of American origin were viewed as being products of an indifferent or lax education system and are seen as being less productive than students or potential faculty members of foreign origin.”

According to Paul, during her time at Carnegie Mellon, she was the only United States-born female white faculty member in the department. She also claims that in 30 years, three white women have applied for similar promotions in the department, and all three were denied.

“We deny these allegations,” Bhagavatula stated in an e-mail message. He noted that because of “the confidential nature of personnel matters involving faculty,” he could not comment further.

Assistant vice-president for Media Relations Teresa Thomas issued a statement noting that, “While the University regrets that Dr. Paul has chosen to file suit, the University is prepared to defend against the action and believes that it will ultimately prevail.”

Khosla made a similar statement and would not comment further. Pileggi was unable to be reached for comment.

Paul, who stated she had no interest in presenting her claims through the media, has since left the University to take a position on the faculty at Virginia Tech.