A former associate professor of Afro-American Studies who sued Harvard in 1980 for discrimination has won the latest round in a complicated legal battle with the institution that denied him tenure.
A U.S. Appeals Court judge this week reinstated former Associate Professor of Afro-American Studies Ephraim Isaae's suit against the University, which was dismissed on procedural grounds 10 months ago.
The ruling from the higher court reverses a decision last October by Federal District Court Judge Walter J. Skinner '48, who threw out the case because a state agency charged with looking into such cases had not finished its administrative proceedings before a 300-day deadline expired.
Isaac filed his suit against Harvard claiming that he was denied tenure 10 years ago in the Afro-American Studies Department because he is Ethiopian and Black.
Harvard, however, contends that Isaac did not receive the lifetime teaching post because the Afro-American Studies Department at that time needed Americanists rather than Africanists like Isaac. Harvard has also countered charges of discrimination by arguing that the University offered tenure to two other Black junior faculty members at the same time it denied tenure to Isaac.
In Monday's decision, the appeals court also eliminated a protective order granted by the lower court that would prevent Isaac's lawyer from using past University tenure files as evidence. Isaac's attorney, Edward Greer, had unsuccessfully asked Harvard to reveal the files, which he had sought because he said it was the only way he could prove his client was the victim of discrimination.
After five years of legal haggling, the Federal District Court last October granted a request by Harvard that it be allowed to keep its tenure files confidential. It then ruled in Harvard's favor once again by dismissing the case after the University admitted new evidence.
The Latest Decision
Isaac then appealed to the higher court. Its 27' page decision, released late Monday by U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Frank M. Coffin, not only reinstated the case, but also will force Skinner to reconsider whether Harvard must reveal confidential information on tenure cases. In his decision, Coffin asked Skinner to review anew Isaac's request and to explain more thoroughly why it was originally denied.
Isaac and Greer said they were pleased with Monday's ruling. "If you read past court cases like this one, they're a joke; they're so pro-Harvard administration," Greer said. "So it appears to the appeals court that Isaac has raised a serious case."
"Harvard's going to get its ass kicked in trial," the lawyer continued.
Harvard's Deputy General Counsel Martin Michacison disagreed with Greer. "The court of appeals wasn't asked to look at the merits of the case but was asked to look at a procedural question. Nothing in the court of appeals decision addresses of affects the merits of the case," Michaelson said.
Isaac, who until recently has been visiting fellow at Princeton and who has just begun an independent institute of Semitic Studies, said he was very pleased with the ruling.
"I have great respect for Harvard, but unfortunately Harvard is run by human beings, and it's human to err. I believe injustice has been done to me, African Studies and that department," he said from his New Jersey home.
Isaac, who received his PhD in African Studies in 1969--the year the Afro-American Studies Department was established--said he was "dragged into the new program" with what he took to be a promise of tenure. Ewart Guinier, profess of Afro-American Studies. Emeritus, and chairman of the department during Isaac's stay at Harvard, told The Crimson in October that the department had recommended him for tenure. Officials have said part because Ethiopian studies are not widely taught in the U.S.
Unlike many other Harvard junior faculty members who are denied tenure in closely contended decisions, Isaac has not received tenure at any
This week's appeals court decision to reverse the October ruling centered on the issue of timeliness. The Federal District Court, originally decided that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD)--a state body that has first crack at such claims--had not finished its administrative proceedings before the 300-day termination deadline had passed.
Yet, Coffin ruled that this was not the case because 27 days before the deadline passed, the MCAD decided not to process the case but to refer it back to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The referral back to the EEOC, which four years later gave Isaac notice of "right to sue," constituted, in Coffin's opinion, MCAD's official termination of administrative proceedings