Professor Wins Six-Figure Discrimination Award: Denied Tenure after Objecting to Lesbian's Biased Remarks

Article excerpt

DENVER - A college professor has been awarded $261,730 in a discrimination case with a twist: The jury found he had been unfairly denied tenure because he came to the defense of a male Mormon suffering religious discrimination at the hands of a lesbian.

It all began two years ago at a faculty meeting when professor Phillip Thornton and his colleagues at Metropolitan State College here were discussing a job applicant.

At one point, Virginia Parker, the chairman of the accounting department, made a remark that shocked him.

Miss Parker said the applicant, Gary Ames, had made insulting remarks about homosexuals and that, as a lesbian, she was offended. She also said Mr. Ames, a Mormon, had six children and that Mormons are known to view women as "baby-making machines," Mr. Thornton said.

"She brought up the topic of how he was Mormon, and as a Mormon he wouldn't like homosexuals," said Mr. Thornton. "Then [another professor] said, `Everybody knows Mormons hate blacks, what if he gave a black student a lower grade?' Then Virginia said, `You know what he thinks about women, he thinks women are baby-making machines.'

"It just went on and on like this," he said.

Instead of letting the comments slide, Mr. Thornton objected and took his complaint to the dean. He said that explains why, the following year, he was rejected for tenure. And the eight-member federal jury agreed with him.

Sheila Kaplan, president of Metropolitan State, said Mr. Thornton was denied tenure because his dossier failed to measure up to the college's standards. The college is expected to appeal the decision, which gave Mr. Thornton $250,000 for emotional distress and $11,730 in lost pay, plus attorney's fees.

At an Oct. 18 hearing, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson also could decide to give Mr. Thornton his job back and award him tenure as well, although that would be unusual, said his attorney, Paul Baca.

At the very least, Mr. Baca said, he hopes to increase the award by taking into account the future damages to Mr. Thornton's career, which he says are considerable.

"It's pretty much shot me academically," said Mr. Thornton, who is now earning about $10 an hour at a part-time job as an accountant. …