Court Case: Batya Weinbaum v. Cleveland State University

Case History

Batya Weinbaum, former assistant professor in the English department at Cleveland State University (CSU) in Ohio, sued the university for sex discrimination in her treatment and the decision to terminate her in violation of Ohio state laws.

Weinbaum began her employment at CSU in 1998 as a tenure-track assistant professor. She claims that at the time of her hire, CSU officials promised her certain benefits such as a part-time graduate assistant, office space, and technical equipment to support her work on a feminist journal. Weinbaum alleges that initially the university failed to fulfill all of these promises.

Weinbaum maintains that while at CSU, her scholarship, service, and teaching were well above average, and particularly in terms of scholarship, she far outpaced her colleagues. However, she claims that she continually faced harassment and disparate treatment from her male department chair, including exclusion from committees and the withholding of pertinent information. In her second year at CSU, the working relationship between Weinbaum and the chairman had become so strained that mediation was necessary. Weinbaum states that despite this mediation, her chairman’s harassment toward her continued. She alleges that the chairman wrongly sought to discipline her for various incidents without hearing her defense, and notes that the administration rescinded many of these disciplinary actions after hearing her arguments. Additionally, she believes that her department chair knew about egregious behavior by male faculty in her department, yet took few steps to discipline them, if at all.

In Weinbaum’s fourth-year review, her department’s peer review committee commended her on her scholarship and teaching, although it questioned her potential for providing service to CSU’s community based on its assessment of her inability to work with others in her department. Due to this assessment, the committee ultimately recommended that she not be reappointed. The college-wide peer review committee concurred with this determination. Weinbaum appealed the decision to a union representative, who determined that university officials committed procedural irregularities when conducting Weinbaum’s review and treated her in a manner demeaning to her gender. Though the representative suggested that Weinbaum receive a continuing contract, the university rejected the remedy and accepted the committees’ recommendations, offering Weinbaum a one-year terminal contract that expired in June 2003. With the assistance of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Weinbaum arbitrated this decision, but was unsuccessful.

Weinbaum claims that her chairperson and members of her peer review committee solicited letters from people who disliked her and based their decisions on immaterial subjective personal and interpersonal matters in violation of policy and procedures. She also claims the university inappropriately took into consideration disciplinary actions against her that the university had rescinded. Furthermore, she maintains that many of her colleagues were uncomfortable with her opinionated and forceful personality because she is a woman. The university argues that its decision to terminate Weinbaum was based on legitimate non-discriminatory business practices.

Weinbaum filed her case in the state of Ohio Court of Claims in 2004. The case entered discovery and Weinbaum and the university entered settlement negotiations. In January 2006 a judge approved the confidential settlement the parties reached.

Key Case Issues

Sex discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment and wrongful termination in violation of Ohio state laws.