Diverse Docket: Gender Bias Suit Against Slippery Rock not Reinstated - Higher Education
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Diverse Docket: Gender Bias Suit Against Slippery Rock not Reinstated

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by Eric Freedman

A tenure-track history faculty member whose contract wasn’t renewed after one year has lost his bid to revive a gender bias suit against Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit unanimously refused to reinstate Dr. Paul Kahan’s discrimination, retaliation, free speech and due process claims.

Paul Kahan

Paul Kahan

Slippery Rock hired Kahan in 2009 on a one-year probationary teaching contract. According to the decision, his performance was “inconsistent,” he submitted mid-term grades late, missed a mandatory faculty meeting and clashed with the departmental secretary, who described him as “weird” and “disingenuous.”

He also initially refused to extend an assignment deadline for the secretary’s son, a student in his class, who was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, the decision said.

Even so, the department’s evaluation committee, department chair and dean initially recommended contract renewal. However, they reversed their recommendation when Kahan failed to turn in his spring mid-term grades on time.

After an unsuccessful grievance, he sued the university, several administrators, the secretary and the secretary’s son under Title VII, Title IX, Section 1983 and state law. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case.

In upholding that decision, the appeals court found insufficient evidence to support any of Kahan’s allegations.

For example, it said the secretary’s characterization of Kahan as “weird” doesn’t demonstrate gender bias, adding that “no reasonable juror could conclude that Kahan was subjected to a hostile work environment.”

Nor did Kahan show that his gender motivated the secretary’s alleged accusation that he’d sexually harassed her son in class, the panel held in an opinion written by Judge Anthony Scirica.

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The court also found no grounds for his due process claims, saying, “Kahan was not even a tenured professor — he was hired on a probationary one-year contract.” In addition, he had only limited rights as a probationary faculty member under the union contract.

Last, the court found no basis for his First Amendment claim, saying no evidence connected the contract nonrenewal with his complaints about grade inflation at the university.

Florida Atlantic prevails

Florida Atlantic University has won a disability and gender discrimination suit filed by a female librarian with a history of frequent epileptic seizures and a confrontational on-the-job relationship with her male supervisor.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach dismissed Holly Hargett’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act and Title VII.

The university hired Hargett in 1988, the decision said. She notified FAU officials of her lifelong epilepsy as early as 2008 and said high tension and stress brought on brief seizures that usually took 2 to 7 minutes — but as long as 20 minutes — to recover from.

The suit alleged that the man who became her supervisor in 2011 treated her angrily and harshly, treated her co-workers more favorably, micromanaged and ostracized her because of her epilepsy, including refusal to help during seizures. It also cited “sporadic reprimands” about her office decorum, break habits, and use of “crude and vulgar language” in a phone call.

She received a three-day unpaid suspension for belligerent behavior, was put on a performance improvement plan and was denied a reclassification pf her position, the decision said.

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FAU granted her accommodation request for 20 minutes of additional daily leave time to compose herself to avoid seizures or to recover from a seizure.

She later asked for additional accommodations:

In dismissing the suit, Middlebrooks said that there was enough evidence that Hargett’s epilepsy may limit a major life activity but said she failed to produce that her suspension was due to her disability or that her supervisor had “any discriminatory animus based on disability.”

He said FAU reasonably accommodated her request for additional leave time.

An accommodation request that her supervisor “adopt a less overbearing management style” and “cease his hostile confrontations with her” was unreasonable, he held.

As for gender discrimination, Middlebrooks found insufficient proof that the supervisor was hostile to women or that any adverse employment action resulted from a sex-based animus.

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