Gender Discrimination Suit against UO Advances

Article excerpt

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

A November trial date has been set in the case of a former University of Oregon graduate student whose gender bias lawsuit has sent ripples through the national academic community.

Monica Emeldi claims in the lawsuit that she was blocked from getting a doctoral degree in education in retaliation for expressing her belief that faculty in the College of Education were biased against women, a claim the university vigorously denies. The suit has attracted attention because it is the first time that a federal law banning discrimination in federally funded schools, known as Title IX, has been used in an academic setting rather than in athletics.

Emeldi's lawsuit initially was dismissed in federal court here but was reinstated after an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The UO asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and again dismiss it, but the highest court recently declined and left the appeals court ruling in place.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, newly appointed to the federal bench in Eugene, set a Nov. 12 trial date during a conference with attorneys Tuesday. However, trial dates in federal court often must be changed depending on the complexity of the case and other factors, and the Emeldi case could be rescheduled for a later date.

Emeldi already has waited nearly five years. She filed the suit in 2008 after professor Robert Horner resigned as chairman of her dissertation committee and none of the 15 other faculty members she approached would agree to replace him.

"She's thrilled to finally have a day in court," said David Force, Emeldi's Eugene attorney, said Tuesday. "Up until now it's all been about legal issues, and now she finally has a chance to put her case before a jury."

The UO maintains that Horner's decision to step down as Emeldi's doctoral advisor and the refusal of other professors to fill in was based entirely on Emeldi's academic record and potential, and was not motivated by bias.

"The university is a strong proponent of the protections provided by both Title IX and academic freedom," said an unattributed statement issued by the university. "The record in the case reflects that professor Horner's decision to resign as Monica Emeldi's dissertation advisor was an appropriate and important exercise of academic judgment unaffected by discrimination."

In her lawsuit, Emeldi claims Horner and other faculty members retaliated against her because she and other graduate students had previously complained to College of Education administrators about a perceived lack of women on the faculty and the absence of positive role models for female graduate students seeking advanced degrees. …