OKCU Law Under Fire for Alleged Gender Discrimination and Harassment

Posted on Categories Labor & Employment Law

Oklahoma Not exactly the place you would expect to see issues of alleged gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but, of course, no employer is immune.

From NewsOK from earlier this week:

Four Oklahoma City University law professors submitted a confidential memo to the OCU attorney in October 2007 detailing alleged discrimination and harassment incidents.

It outlines allegations of sexual harassment, pay disparity and insensitivity.

The female professors also complained the OCU law school has no regular civil rights course, criminal law classes don’t cover rape, and the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade is only covered sporadically in constitutional law.

The memo was sparked by two incidents: the alleged sexual harassment of two female professors at Dean Lawrence Hellman’s home in July 2007 and the all-male panel chosen for a Constitution Day program in September 2007.

“These incidents caused us to summarize and verbalize our longstanding belief that the OCU law faculty exhibit discriminatory attitudes and behavior that are harming and have harmed our professional careers and quality of life,” the women wrote . . . .

The memo notes the lack of women on a faculty appointment committee, which regularly included two university professors who are “openly hostile” to the idea of giving special consideration for women and minorities.

Some interesting questions raised by this memo:  does the lack of course offerings, or the coverage of certain topics, evidence gender discrimination?  How about if a law school panel or a faculty committee does not contain any female professors?  Of course, these questions must be answered in the larger context of the work environment, but they are interesting allegations nonetheless.

Wondering how this “confidential” memo made its way into the news media?

The memo, which is dated Oct. 10, 2007, was included with the Dec. 2 discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court in Oklahoma City by professor Danne Johnson.

Johnson is one of the women responsible for the memo, but the rest of the names in it have been blacked out.

This case has the potential of causing waves in the law school world, so I plan to further updates as they become available.

Hat Tip: Jack Sargent

Cross posted at Workplace Prof Blog.

4 thoughts on “OKCU Law Under Fire for Alleged Gender Discrimination and Harassment”

  1. Interesting. I am troubled by the implication that course coverage decisions by individual faculty members may be viewed as evidence of institutional discrimination. I don’t do much myself with rape in Criminal Law: just one case and perhaps a handful of other references in passing. But, in a three-credit, first-semester, first-year class (when law students are still trying to figure out the basics of legal education), there is only so much substantive law that one can cover. Given the number and complexity of “general part” doctrines that really need to be taught in Criminal Law (degrees of culpability, proximate causation, attempt, conspiracy, etc.), I have a hard time seeing how rape could get a lot of focused attention — or how one could fairly draw an inference of discriminatory intent from a failure to cover the topic. If this lawsuit is successful, it may force a lot of rethinking of the first-year curriculum.

  2. I can certainly imagine circumstances in which the selection of course topics evidences bias against women. E.g., imagine a law school in which any legal issue of particular relevance to women — sex discrimination, abortion rights, etc. — was widely dismissed as trivial. Proving that would be a different matter though, and I’m not sure that the mere absence of a couple of issues from a couple of classes would do it. And there’s also the issue of who the plaintiffs would be — I would think the natural claim in my hypo would be a Title IX claim rather than a Title VII claim — you’d need additional facts, I’d think, for Title VII, such as that professors felt pressured to cover or not cover certain topics, or were demeaned or retaliated against for doing so, etc.

  3. I’m an OCU alum. The two primary criminal law professors at OCU are male, so if they dwelled on rape, wouldn’t it make the women in the class feel uncomfortable with the professor’s “hang-up” on rape?

    As I Republican, I felt discriminated against because the OCU law curriculum didn’t focus enough on Bush v. Gore. In reality, how often do we cite to Roe, Bush, or common law rape in our daily practice? It is probably wise to only spend a day on Roe in Con Law; after all, it is hard to cover the entire universe of Con Law over the course of a year (Con Law is a required two semesters at OCU).

    I never heard students complain about more Roe, rape, and civil rights classes. As a matter of fact, when I took Constitutional Civil Rights at OCU, it only had 4 students in the class. Furthermore, Professor Carla Spivak, for example, showed serious academic freedom last year when she developed and taught a class at OCU that combined two of her hobbies: law and classic literary works.

    What will be interesting (and ultimately determinative) is the pay disparity claim. If the women professors at OCU aren’t making as much as their male counterparts, that is an actionable issue. They should be making just as much and they certainly deserve it.

  4. I don’t think being “openly hostile to the idea of giving special consideration for women and minorities” should necessarily disqualify someone from participation on a faculty appointment committee.

    Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of giving special consideration on the basis of race or gender. It is probably desirable to have a committee that includes different opinions on this issue.

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