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Court Dismisses Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Harvard

Former Associate Professor of Anthropology Kimberly Theidon.
Former Associate Professor of Anthropology Kimberly Theidon. By Courtesy of Kimberly Theidon
By Angela N. Fu and Lucy Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

A federal judge ruled last month that former associate professor Kimberly S. Theidon failed to prove Harvard violated Title IX policies in denying her tenure.

The decision comes three years after Theidon initially filed her lawsuit in March 2015, claiming the University denied her tenure in May 2013 due to her advocacy on behalf of those who have suffered sexual assault. U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin wrote in an order dismissing the case on Feb. 28 that Theidon did not prove Harvard discriminated against her on the basis of gender or that the University retaliated against her for her stances on sexual assault.

Harvard spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement that the University is “pleased” with the ruling.

“This decision affirms that Harvard’s tenure decision was based solely on the merits of her candidacy," Cowenhoven wrote.

Philip J. Gordon, Theidon’s lawyer, said he and Theidon plan on filing an appeal to the decision.

“We are, of course, disappointed in the judge’s ruling, but new details are finally emerging, and we will be appealing,” Gordon said.

During the trial, Theidon, who specializes in Latin American studies, said Government Professor and Latin American Studies Scholar Jorge I. Dominguez discouraged her from filing a suit in July 2013 after she received news of her tenure denial, as recorded in a court order from May 2017.

“Yes, I do,” Theidon said when asked if she had notes from her meetings with Dominguez. “He told me not to file a grievance, not to pursue a suit, not to set precedent, to go to [Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity] Judith Singer, see if they’d forgive my mortgage and solve it all with a handshake.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in February that at least 18 women are accusing Dominguez of sexual misconduct. Following the reports, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith placed Dominguez on paid administrative leave while the University investigates the sexual harassment allegations against him. A week later, Dominguez announced he was stepping down from all administrative positions immediately and retiring from teaching at the end of the semester. Dominguez is on sabbatical this semester.

In the court record, Theidon said she approached Dominguez for advice because he had previously commended her scholarly work and had helped her apply for tenure.

“He had given me some advice on the research statement, because I couldn’t get anyone to explain to me what the tenure research statement should look like,” she said. “And he told me my great, my scholarly contributions, et cetera, so he seemed like someone that I should go back to after the tenure denial, because I was trying to figure out for myself what had happened.”

Though Theidon ultimately was not able to produce the notes she mentioned in court, Sorokin ruled that she should instead produce a quarter-page summary of the event.

Dominguez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon.

In her suit, Theidon alleged the University's decision to deny her tenure was unfairly influenced by her complaints—made to at least one dean and one professor— about the disparate treatment of women in her department.

Theidon also claimed Harvard denied her tenure in retaliation for comments she made a March 2013 Crimson article about sexual harassment at Harvard. In that story, she defended anonymous sexual assault victims also quoted in the report. Theidon has previously said in interviews with the Crimson that, prior to publication of the 2013 article, she received multiple indications she was likely to earn tenure.

Harvard’s actions, Theidon claimed, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.

Harvard argued Theidon had instead not received tenure because she failed to publish research articles in top anthropology journals and because her new projects at the time were “essentially more of the same.”

Theidon filed a charge against Harvard in March 2014 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She withdrew the complaint a few months later so she could file a suit at the federal level.

In 2015, Theidon was granted tenure at Tufts University, where she is currently a professor of international humanitarian studies.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.

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