SPH Lecturer Sues University For Gender Bias

Harvard denies allegations, says system fair to all

Almost one year after they first filed the suit, lawyers for Harvard School of Public Health (SPH) Lecturer Tamara E. Awerbuch-Friedlander have completed the discovery phase of her lawsuit against the University in which she alleges she was the victim of gender discrimination at the school.

In papers filed with the Middlesex County Superior Court in June 1997, Awerbuch-Friedlander claims she was denied appointment to "tenure-track" positions because of her gender.

In the suit, she also alleges that when she complained about the situation, SPH officials retaliated by crating a "hostile work environment." Awerbuch-Friedlander is suing for compensation for lost wages and other damages valued at no less than $350,000, according to documents filed with the court.

No individual defendants are named in the suit.

"The time that I could have devoted to my research and my family went to trying to fix the damages that Harvard caused," Awerbuch-Friedlander said in an interview yesterday. "I was harassed pretty much when I complained."


In legal documents submitted by the University's General Counsel's Office, Harvard denied the charges.

University spokesperson Alex Huppe declined to comment on the case, citing the University's policy of not discussing pending legal matters.

However, Huppe did say that Harvard is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination.

The suit alleges that, although she was qualified, Awerbuch-Friedlander was passed over several times for promotions from 1989 to the present.

Awerbuch-Friedlander's suit claims that in one case which occurred in 1989, SPH administrators failed to promote her to an assistant professorship in the Department of Biostatistics despite a recommendation for the appointment by the Standing Committee on Appointments, Reappointments and Promotions (SCARP).

The suit also claims systematic discrimination against women at SPH. According to Jonathan Shapiro, a Boston-based attorney who is representing Awerbuch-Friedlander in the dispute, "There has been a pattern of similar actions with respect to other women at the School of Public Health."

Shapiro said he knows of at least one other woman who had made similar complaints against SPH.

The suit alleges that past SPH job searches were merely "formalities," designed to give an impression that positions were open to all.

"The manner in which [SPH] hires its faculty deprives women of equal opportunities because the school creates positions to fit the person who it wants to hire, and those persons are almost always male," said the plaintiff's complaint tothe court.

Awerbuch-Friedlander also claims thatcomplaints to the administration resulted inretribution. The suit says, among other things,that she was refused secretarial services, movedfrom an office to a cubicle and her name wasomitted from a staff directory in two differentyears.

But in its legal response, the University saidwhen such actions were taken, they were eitheraccidental or for "legitimate andnon-discriminatory reasons."

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