Employer's Derogatory Statements Prompt Appeals Court To Overrule Summary Judgment

Author:Mr Mark Alexander
Profession:Holland & Knight LLP

A minority professor, who focused his research on the interaction between drug abuse and AIDS, filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and later filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination based on national origin because he was not promoted to full professor. Dr. Chuang was hired by the University in 1982 as a non-tenured assistant professor of pharmacology at the school of medicine.

It is unclear from the court's decision whether Dr. Chuang was denied tenure, or whether he was denied promotion to a tenure-track position. In either event, in 1995 Dr. Chuang claims that he was denied ìpromotionî to a tenured or to a tenure-track position. The trial judge ruled for the University and entered summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment entered by the trial court, and sent the case back to the trial court for a jury trial on the professor's claims. Chuang v. University of California Davis, (9th Cir., August 30, 2000).

The appellate court reversed because all of the tenured and tenure-track faculty within the department were white, except for two Chinese-American professors hired after Dr. Chuang made his complaint with the EEOC. On several occasions the department had hired white professors from outside the University into tenure track positions, rather than promote Dr. Chuang. On one occasion the University hired a white professor as a ìTarget of Opportunity for Diversityî appointment, which Dr. Chuang says was a program designed to recruit minority and women faculty.

However, one of the most offensive facts alleged by Dr. Chuang concerned certain derogatory statements made about persons of Chinese descent. At a meeting of the executive committee of the Davis School of Medicine a member of the committee asked about a Chinese American professor (not Dr. Chuang) whom the faculty had asked the administration to pursue as a candidate for department chair. The administration had never pursued this candidate. According to one account, one member of the executive committee remarked that, ìtwo Chinksî in the department were more than enough; and in response, the Dean laughed. Apparently, the reference was to Dr. Chuang and to his wife Linda Chuang who worked with him. The University denies that these statements were made, but the court is required to review the evidence in the light most favorable to the claimant at the summary judgment stage of the litigation...

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