Living my life as an exclamation, not an explanation...


It should be noted by readers that Absinthe is not a lawyer, and anything posted in this blog should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from a lawyer

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  Saturday, July 22, 2006

In 2004 I developed a career satisfaction survey posted to the physicists at the lab as part of the registration for a conference at the lab.  500 people registered for the conference, of which around 250 responded to the survey.

The respondents were males and females at all stages of the academic career ladder, from graduate student to full professor.  The survey was developed in conjunction with a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who had done previous studies of gender-issues in the sciences.

Because I have been talking about this survey a lot in recent posts, I spent some time over the last couple of evenings and dug out the data and the analysis programs.

Here are some gems:

There were 54 and 14 male and female professors, respectively, who responded to the survey. 20% of the males had to do two or more postdocs before going on tenure track.  In contrast, 50% of the females had to do two or more postdocs before going on tenure track. The p-value testing the hypothesis that the fractions for the two groups are actually the same is p<0.02  To summarize, females are more than twice as likely as the males to have to do two or more postdocs before being deemed "experienced" enough to go on to tenure track.  Even though we only had around 70 respondents who were professors, the differences between the two groups were large enough to be statistically significant.  Notably, this result does not change if we examine physicists with and without children separately.

Of great interest in the survey is the responses of the younger physicists (ie; those less than 40 years old), who are unlikely to have tenure and are in the process of building their careers.  The young physicists are composed of 116 and 39 males and females, respectively.  The age distribution of the males and females less than 40 years old is nearly identical.

The survey asked these young physicists how many peer reviews they had performed of publications in the last five years.  The mean for the males is 0.66 publications with a standard error on the mean of 0.13.  The mean for the females is 0.31 publications with a standard error on the mean of 0.11.  The p-value testing the hypothesis that the means of these two groups are actually the same is p<0.02.  To summarize, young males are more than twice as likely to be asked to peer review publications.

The survey also asked these young physicists if they felt that their boss actively fostered their career.  34% and 50% of the males and females, respectively, felt that their boss did not actively foster their career (p-value<0.05).  To summarize, females were around 50% more likely to feel that their boss did not actively foster their career.

The average weekly working hours of young males and females was virtually identical (around 52 hours per week on average, with a large standard deviation of 13 hours).

The young females in the survey (compared to the males) were less happy with their careers, less likely to see themselves in the field in five years time, and were less likely to see themselves ultimately obtaining tenure.  The females were less likely than the males to have children, and, if they did have children, had on average fewer children than the males.

In a later post I will talk about the part of the survey that asked the physicists what their primary likes and dislikes were in the field.  There were interesting gender differences in the responses to that portion of the survey.

12:14:35 PM    comment []

  Friday, July 21, 2006

Recently a good friend and I have exchanged several recent letters that have gone off on a somewhat strange and unexpected tangent that has us fantasizing about what our lives should be like when we are older.  My addition to the fantasy is living life as a liberated old lady, living in a little cob house in the rainforest by a secluded beach. Nearby, you can walk on a boardwalk through the rainforest to a hot spring by the ocean, where you can relax your life's cares away in the soothing waters of one of Nature's cathedrals.  

Evenings would be spent knitting by the fire, with nothing but the sound of the distant crashing waves and the wind in the trees as the background music.  Days would be spent gardening, and going for long walks on the beach, throwing sticks into the surf for my dog until his tongue lolls out the side of his mouth in happy exhaustion.  Then we would head home, and he would flop himself down to gently steam by the fire (filling the house with the not-necessarily-unpleasant funk of happy wet dog), while I would make myself a cup of tea and sit at the little table by one of the beach facing windows, stroking the cat on my lap, with my binoculars near at hand so I can watch the seagulls, the cormorants, and the occasional seal popping its head up beyond the surf line.  In the winters storms would rage their fury, but I would be safe and warm in my little house, looking out at the huge waves crashing onto the islets off of the beach, all the while marvelling at how insignificant I was relative to the forces of nature that surround us.  My house would be filled with books and warmth and the lovely scent of hewn west coast cedar, and I would never be bored or lonely (even when I was alone).

And so the passage of my days would go, one blending into the other, as I went forward into peaceful and graceful old age, utterly content with life.

I have been thinking about this all day, and the whole thing just makes me happy

Those of you who know the true identity of Absinthe, know that she is describing the place where she grew up.  How wrenchingly far she has come from those roots.  And (by and large) how unhappy that journey has been.  And all because of her choice of career.  That old lady who will be me will not regret her life's choices, because the sum of her past experiences are, after all, what makes her her. But if she could reach back to me now, she would be giving me a little hug, and a little squeeze on the arm, and she would be whispering in my ear "come...come to me now...start your journey". 

Oh, indeed to begin that journey. 

12:45:22 PM    comment []

  Thursday, July 20, 2006

I hate the new line of Subway commercials.  For instance, the one where a woman is flying in the air like a superwoman saying "Look out world, here I come!". Then a light comes on below her illuminating her family sitting at the dinner table, and her husband says "Honey, where's dinner?".  And then she deflates. 

My daughter asked "why doesn't the Daddy make the dinner?". 

That's my girl! 

10:37:27 AM    comment []

  Sunday, July 09, 2006

If you have read the previous post, and decided that suing is for you despite all the drawbacks, your next step is to find a good lawyer.  I had an absolute nightmare of a time trying to find a lawyer (and, because my first attorney fell gravely ill, I had to go through the process twice).

The problem in finding a discrimination lawyer when you work for a university (particularly state universities) is that lawyers know that the universities have infinitely deep litigation pockets (at least compared to the Plaintiff).  Thus the attorneys know that the likelihood that the Plaintiff will be able to monetarily survive long enough in the lawsuit to actually prevail is probably pretty low.  So they really don't want to take such cases.  They would rather litigate discrimination lawsuits against small companies and the like, where the chances of coming to a quick conclusion that puts money in their pockets is much higher.

Thus, I was rejected outright by many, many law firms.  They simply told me"we don't deal with cases against the state", and that was the end of that.  Many, many lawfirms also wouldn't return my calls when I would leave a description of my case with their intake receptionist.  It was beyond frustrating.

I eventually did find a lawyer in the venerable Eleanor Jackson Piel (Eleanor represented Cynthia Fisher during her seminal case, Fisher v Vassar College (see the previous post for more information on that)). 

Unfortunately, some months after being retained by me, Eleanor fell gravely ill and I was forced to go through the whole nasty process once again of finding a lawyer.  This time I was wiser, but sad that I could not fight my lawsuit with someone like Eleanor at my side; if you ever need an attorney, may you be so blessed to find someone even remotely like Eleanor Jackson Piel.  Eleanor has been a bulldog advocate for human rights for many decades, and I feel honored to know her.  

The second time around searching for a lawyer, I took advantage of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER ) system.  The PACER web pages are very cheap to view, and allow you to view all documents that have been filed for all federal court cases in America.  To get started with PACER you need to create an account, which involves giving them a credit card number to which to bill the page charges.  No need to worry about huge extraneous charges...there aren't any.  I have looked at a *lot* of documents on PACER, and the total charges so far after about a year are something like $65, which is a drop in the bucket considering the wealth of information I have learned from searches using the system, and also considering how much I pay my lawyer ($350 per hour).

To find a lawyer who was knowledgeable about academic law and who had a good track record litigating against her university, I simply figured out which US federal court district I was in, then used the PACER online database to search for previous federal discrimination lawsuits against my university.  The PACER system told me which lawsuits against my university were won, lost, settled, or still ongoing.  The PACER system also told me the name and full contact information of all the attorneys involved in each case. 

So, it is a simple process to pick the lawyers who have fought cases that have won against your university. 

Also, the full details of each case (called the Plaintiff's "Complaint")  are available off of PACER for pretty much every lawsuit.  The Complaint details everything the Plaintiff has to say about how the university did her wrong, and it is usually the first document filed in a court case. The university's responses to each complaint (called, appropriately enough, the "Response") are also available.  It will probably be very helpful to you to read all the Complaints and all the Responses for each case against your university. It will give you a pretty good idea of the tactics the university has been using to fight such cases (and leave you wiser as to how to go about possibly avoiding them as you write your own Complaint). 

Note that the PACER system charges you 8 cents a page to view these documents, which I think is a very reasonable price.  Be sure to copy the PDF files of the documents you view to your computer such that if you need to look at them again you won't have to pay another 8 cents per page.

Also, and this is up to you, you might consider contacting some of the Plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits against your university.  I have noticed that universities seem to take the divide and conquer route by acting like your lawsuit is the first that has ever been filed in their utopian work enviroment.  The other complainants will probably be in departments other than yours, but it will really help to chat with them anyway.  And you will almost certainly find that they are very grateful to find that someone gives enough of a damn about their case to actually contact them about it.  Be sure to be up front with them about how you found out about their case. 

A tip: if you can't find your university in PACER using one moniker, like, for instance, University of California at Berkeley, try just looking for Berkeley.  I found federal lawsuits against my university listed under about four different monikers.

Another tip: if you still can't find any federal discrimination lawsuits against your university, make sure you got the district court right.  Sometimes it can be confusing, particularly if there is more than one district in your state.

And a final tip: if you *still* can't find any listings of federal discrimination lawsuits against your university, pick another university in your town or nearby in your state, and find a lawyer who has successfully litigated against them.

9:49:03 AM    comment []

  Friday, July 07, 2006

Title IX, is the federal anti-discrimination law that protects people attending, studying at,or employed by any federally funded educational or research institute. That means pretty much all schools, universities, and national laboratories. It forbids discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc. Importantly (at least to Absinthe), it is the only federal law that specifically forbids parental status discrimination .

Title IX is a great law, and it has been used to good effect to revolutionalize the collegiate athletic system to make it much more equitable to females. I love Title IX, and I wish it could be used a lot more often to revolutionize other areas of academia where women are woefully under-represented. Like the sciences and our national laboratories for instance. 

The Association of Women in Science has published a Title IX fact sheet, and an article written by Professor Debra Rolison calls for much stronger enforcement by the government and the courts of Title IX in the sciences.

In large part due to Debra Rolison's efforts, in 2002 Senators Barbara Boxer and Ron Wyden requested a
General Accounting Office report on Title IX enforcement in federally funded research and educational programs in the sciences. The report found that Title IX enforcement in the sciences was woefully inadequate. Over a year after the report was published, Title IX enforcement appears to still be very inadequate. 

I think that if the government is truly committed to reducing barriers to womens' participation in the sciences, they should cut the grant funding of institutes that consistently thumb their nose at laws and regulations. Hitting institutes like that in their research pocketbooks would do far more to almost instantaneously reduce discrimination in the sciences than any spate of individual lawsuits (like Absinthe's) ever could.

Anyway, on to the mechanics of Title IX:
Unlike Title VII, Title IX does not require a Plaintiff to first file a complaint with the EEOC before any lawsuit can take place, In fact, the EEOC has nothing to do with Title IX cases. In addition, a very nice thing about Title IX is that the statute of limitations is a lot longer than that of Title VII (ie; two to three years, depending on where you live...consult a lawyer for more information on that). And a great thing about Title IX is that there are no caps on damages (unlike Title VII which caps at $300,000). Also, if the Plaintiff prevails in the lawsuit, she is entitled to be compensated for her attorney's fees.

However, there are pitfalls; the law concerning Title IX as it applies to employment discrimination cases is best described as "fluid". Some circuit courts hold that Title VII completely supercedes Title IX (which would imply that in an employment discrimination case you can only sue under Title VII), while others hold that you can sue under either or simultaneously sue under both. At some point the issue will be decided by the Supreme Court (and Absinthe dearly hopes that it is not her case that ends up having to go all the way to the Supreme Court to do that...no joke, it is a very real possibility).

Also, everything I mentioned in my previous post about 11th amendement immunity of state universities to federal statutes applies here. So, if you are employed by a state university, it is possible that you cannot bring suit against them if you have been discriminated against under Title IX. However, the case law on this is also "fluid". Consult a lawyer for more information.

9:43:44 PM    comment []

Title VII is the federal anti-discrimination law that applies to pretty much everyone working in the US (not just academics). Case law for Title VII has amazing breadth and depth.

Title VII has some disadvantages that really, in Absinthe's eyes, seem designed to totally protect employers rather than the people they discriminate against. For instance, Title VII has an incredibly short statute of limitations (6 months to a year, depending on what state you live in). My guess is that if you are going through a discriminatory situation at work that is so nightmarish that you are left with little choice but to sue, you really aren't going to be in any kind of mental shape to get your sh*t together enough to jump through all the hoops placed before you to bring a suit under Title VII. 

Also, while we are on the topic of the Title VII statute of limitations, it is really, really important to keep in mind that university equity offices are there to serve the university, not you.  Absinthe has heard way too many horror stories about university equity offices dragging their feet in addressing a discrimination or harassment problem, specifically to screw the the complainant out of her Title VII statute of limitations (and then to add insult to grievous injury, the equity office does bugger all to solve the problem in the end).  Please, if you take nothing else away from this blog, be aware that university equity offices are not there to serve the complainants...they are there to protect the university.  Go through the standard complaint procedures at your university, but also simultaneously file a complaint with the EEOC to protect your statute of limitations if you feel that your problem is serious enough to likely warrant a lawsuit.

Getting back to the aforementioned Title VII hoops; before you are allowed to bring suit under Title VII, you first have to file a complaint with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC). The EEOC, after what are usually excruciatingly long delays, will review your case. According the to the EEOC web-site, around 50% of the time (or more) they simply dismiss the charge as not having enough evidence, and you aren't allowed to sue (!). Around 40% or so of cases are issued a "right-to-sue" letter, and then you then have 90 days to file suit under Title VII in federal court. In a very small fraction of cases (like 5% or less), the EEOC will actually sue your employer on your behalf. The EEOC will usually only do this when the case has so much smoking gun evidence that winning it is like shooting fish in a barrel. They like to keep their success rate high. It looks good on paper.

The other thing that totally sucks about Title VII is that it caps awards for compensatory damages at $300,000. If you are an academic and you've been discriminated against to the point that the career you have nurtured for decades is now in ruins, do you think $300,000 cuts it as appropriate compensation? Not.

One of the good things about Title VII is that if the Plaintiff prevails in the lawsuit, she is entitled to compensation for her attorney's fees.

One more thing; as mentioned in the previous post, if you are employed by a state university, you may not be able to bring a discriminaton lawsuit against them in federal court under Title VII because of the 11th amendment. Consult a lawyer for more information.

9:39:08 PM    comment []

Before I talk about federal anti-discrimination laws and how they apply to academia, I would be remiss in not pointing out the 11th Amendment; if you are someone who works for a state university, and if you are thinking of filing a federal discrimination lawsuit under Title VII or Title IX, the the 11th amendment to the US consistitution is something you will likely have to contend with. 

The 11th amendment essentially makes "non-consenting" states immune from federal lawsuits that seek monetary damages. "Non-consenting" means that it is up to the state to decide whether or not they want to be sued under federal law. Gee, how many states do you figure actually consent to be sued under federal law?

Now, case law on this is very fluid, and you should definitely consult a lawyer if you need more in-depth information, but most federal discrimination lawsuits brought under Title VII or Title IX against a state university will have the issue of 11th amendment immunity brought up because the university is considered a state entity (or would like itself to be considered a state entity). The Department of Justice
(look down near the bottom in this link) has been attempting to crack down on states trying to weasel out of having to abide by federal laws.

However, if you do work for a state university and have been discriminated against, you should check that you are actually employed by the university itself, rather than, for instance, the university research foundation. Most research universities have some kind of research foundation associated with them, and the research foundation is a private corporation specifically designed to keep the monies that might be generated by the university's research (ie; patents and all that) separate from the main coffers of the university. There are probably other esoteric reasons for the existence of these foundations that Absinthe doesn't know about.

Anyway, employees of a research foundation of a state university can sue under Title VII and Title IX because research foundations are private corporations, not a public entity of the state.

If you work for a state university, but not the research foundation (and have been discriminated against to the point where you feel you have no choice but to sue), a good option for you might be to bring a suit in state court under state anti-discrimination laws. All states have them, and some are better and more comprehensive than others. Check with a lawyer for what laws apply in your state. Lawsuits brought in state court have some advantages; for instance, state anti-discrimination laws sometimes have a longer statute of limitations than their federal counterparts, and they also may have no caps on damages. Check with a lawyer.

9:06:53 PM    comment []

  Thursday, July 06, 2006

In the next series of posts I will describe what I know about various federal anti-discrimination laws and how they apply in academia.  I have frequently noticed that even well educated academics are often quite ignorant regarding anti-discrimination laws, and how they apply to them as either employees or employers within the university system.

When I first decided a couple of years ago to sue my former employer, I found that it was extremely difficult to find reliable and complete information regarding which anti-discrimination laws were applicable to my situation.  Also, I found that very few lawyers are familiar with employment law within the academic environment (in a future post, I will give tips on how to find a good lawyer in your city who is familiar with academic employment law). 

So, in the next posts we will describe Title VII and Title IX, with a separate post for each law.

It should not be construed in these posts that I am encouraging people to sue their employers if they feel they have been discriminated against or harassed.  In fact, usually that is probably *not* the best course of action, and later we will discuss why that is the case.  I merely encourage everyone to be aware of their rights under the law.

8:59:40 AM    comment []

First before I say anything else about this blog, please do not post a comment from a Fermilab email account (or other national lab account) on this blog.  If you are working at a national lab, and would like to leave a comment, go to hotmail.com (or some such place) and get a free e-mail account that maintains your anonymity.  The lab has fired women for using lab computing resources to do things a lot more innocuous than posting comments on a blog like this one.  Thus I would suggest that you do not use a Fermilab computer even if you are just reading this blog (ie; not posting comments). If you think the lab doesn't notice this blog, think again.

On to why I blog...

I find myself spending more and more time in the past year adding comments to the blogs of others, and it too often seems like my nuggets of wisdom probably belong in my own blog for all to share.  So today I started my own blog.

I choose to blog mostly because I am a female academic currently suing my former employers.  Three years have passed and the lawsuit still slowly crawls its way through the courts.  I've noticed that precious little first hand information is available on the web from people who have sued their former employers (probably because they are too exhausted once it is all over to do anything else other than nurse their nervous breakdown).

Thus, as a potential service to all other female academics out there, I will be writing a series of posts on what it is like to go through the lawsuit process, tips for finding a lawyer, etc, etc, etc.  Stay tuned.  More than anything else, I mean for this blog to become a tool that empowers female academics with the knowledge and tools to effectively fight against discrimination in their workplace.

Editorial note 07/19/06: Radio Userland has a utility that allows me to see where the hits to this site are coming from, and I've noted that around 50% or so come from people using Google to try to find information about various topics in discrimination law.  I hope those of you who found this site that way find some useful information here (it is why I developed the site, after all).  If you didn't find what you were looking for, and you think more needs to be added to this site, please send me a mail by clicking on the little envelope icon in the left hand navigation bar.

In addition to the above topics, I will probably provide a potpourri of posts on more mundane topics, like what is going on in my day-to-day life. I'll no doubt occassionally post pictures of, for instance, my knitting projects (see below for a stunningly accurate portrait of Absinthe knitting), and other similar things. 

A word about the knitting; just because I knit does not make me any less of an intellectual academic (you'd be surprised the comments I get...I mean really...people see me with my needles and from their attitudes it's obvious they have just knocked 50 points off of their assessment of my IQ).  I have knit since the age of four, and I swear that knitting is probably one of the few things that has kept me sane the past three years.  If you are stressed out, perhaps knitting is for you.

Stay tuned.

And special thanks to Debra Rolison for the byline to this blog.

And extra special thanks to Suzanne Franks, of Thus Spake Zuska fame, who is one of my biggest inspirations.  As I get older I seem to get more and more outspoken.  Zuska showed me through the many posts on her blog that it is OK to be angry and outspoken in a public setting, especially if you mix it with humor. 


3:45:24 AM    comment []

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